Episode 210: Top Gun - an interview with Colonel Nicole Malachowski

Nicole Malachowski |

Tick Boot Camp

Colonel Nicole Malachowski is a nationally recognized fighter pilot and military commander. Her 21-year military career included flying 26 combat missions, serving as the first female Thunderbird pilot, serving as a White House Fellow in the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama, and commanding the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Air Force Base in North Carolina. Colonel Malachowski is a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and is the recipient of 11 Air Force medals including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

As commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron, she participated in outdoor training “without taking precautions for preventing insect bites.” Upon returning from training, she visited military doctors to be treated for “flu like symptoms” and an “EM rash.” The doctor diagnosed her rash as a spider bite “because [they] don’t have Lyme in North Carolina.”

Shortly thereafter, Colonel Malachowski was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island and discovered an engorged tick on her leg. Her military doctors warned her to “watch for a rash,” which never appeared. Three months later she tested IgM positive for Lyme disease and was prescribed 28 days of antibiotics.

Colonel Malachowski’s health quickly declined over the course of the 3 years following her 2nd tick bite. She became wheelchair bound despite treating with 24 military and civilian doctors. She was finally “fully diagnosed” after she was granted permission to treat at the civilian Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness – Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

Unfortunately, the late-stage diagnosis and treatment were too late to preserve Colonel Malachowski’s military career. She was forced to retire in 2017 because she contracted “tick-borne illnesses.” Today, Colonel Malachowski is a public speaker and patient advocate for people suffering from tick-borne illnesses.

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