The Lyme community has lost an important hero and friend–and so did I. Leslie Wermers, 41, died from heart failure in her sleep on November 2nd. It’s hard to imagine Leslie’s heart giving out, because for anyone who knew her she was all heart. A dear friend to so many and a tireless worker on behalf of the Minnesota and national Lyme communities, Leslie gave everything she had to help others who were sick. And everything she had was an abundant reserve of love and support–even as her own health waned.
The first time I heard from Leslie was in an email several years ago during production of UNDER OUR SKIN. She said that watching the film trailer changed her life:
“You see, Andy, I had no will to live. I was so sick, with no answers and just wanted it to end. That was until I saw the trailer. You have given me so much joy….Your documentary saved my life.”
Since then, Leslie became our greatest film fan and an activist whose sole goal was to help others avoid a fate she couldn’t avoid herself. I finally met Leslie at the Iowa Lyme memorial which we covered for our film. Though she herself drove more than four hours to be there, she gave our crew a hero’s welcome. Here is a video compilation of our interview with Leslie. Her words are humbling and prophetic.
Later, Leslie and her sister Tracie (who also has Lyme and worked with Leslie on behalf of Lyme sufferers) sent us a picture of their version of the film’s widely-used image of Mandy in the pool. Leslie wrote: “Tracie and I thought that this photo represents our passion to continue to help you finish this project, that will save so many lives.”
Beyond her mission of service, Leslie’s sense of humor and gusto were legendary. Over the next few years hers was a familiar voice in our office–calling regularly to tell us how much she appreciated our work, how we were her “angels,” and how much she loved us. But her love didn’t stop here. It was extended to so many people nationwide who were sick and struggling in solitude with the disease. Leslie and Tracie founded the patients’ advocacy group Minnesota Lymefighters Advocacy. Suffering from Lyme induced insomnia, she had late-night conversations with people across the country–many of whom she had never met–offering them words of encouragement, hope and affection. It is a testament to her profound affect on so many and the deep emptiness she leaves that so many have been moved by her passing, never having even met her.
Leslie’s death leaves a deep hole in my heart and in so many others, including her loving family and partner, Paula. Her indomitable spirit and passion for life were equaled only by her anger at the injustices wrought by Lyme ignorance and her dedication to help heal. May this be a lesson–Leslie’s legacy–for all of us.