Southern Religion

[Updates I & II] Lyme Disease, mental illness and the tragedy of the Rev. Fred Winter’s death

Pastor Winters

Pastor Winters

The death of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., pastor Fred Winters may yet prove to be a tragedy born of failures of our nation’s health care and mental health care systems.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the suspect “is Terry Joe Sedlacek, 27, who was the subject of a Post-Dispatch report in August about how Lyme disease had attacked his brain.”

Sedlacek was the beneficiary of a July 12, 2008, St. Louis Lyme Foundation fund raiser. The foundation described his difficulties:

He nearly lost his life to this disease five years ago and battles the effects daily. His medications and doctor visits are costly. New test results revealed the return of this disease and left temporal lobe damage. He will begin a new & hopeful treatment in July; most of the expense of these treatments will not be covered by insurance.

According to Monday’s Post-Dispatch story:

Neighbors told a reporter that Sedlacek appears to be mentally ill, and would sometimes stand in the street and shout obscenities for no apparent reason.

He was the subject of an Aug. 6, 2008, Post-Dispatch article about his battle with mental illness attributed to Lyme disease. The man’s mother, Ruth Abernathy, said her son, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, may have contracted the disease after being bitten by an infected tick on a family farm in the late 1990s.

The potential psychiatric complications of Lyme Disease are well-documented. B.A. Fallon and J.A. Nields of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry:

A broad range of psychiatric reactions have been associated with Lyme disease including paranoia, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, major depression, anorexia nervosa, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We are a nation which handles mental illness of all kinds not just poorly but with sweeping prejudice, treating it as a stigma, without regard for its origins. A man standing beside the street crying obscenities at passing traffic is a man crying for help.

What went wrong?

Update I: Sedlacek Charged



Terry J. Sedlacek, 27, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Pastor Winters at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, authorities said Monday. Sedlacek also is charged with aggravated battery.

A planner found in his home had Sunday marked as “death day.”

Ruth Abernathy said Lyme Disease nearly killed her son in 2003 and caused lesions on his brain, but said he improved with hyperbaric treatment and a host of drugs.

Unfortunately, his condition subsequently deteriorated again.

Update II

On Oct. 20, 2009, following a psychiatric examination, Sedlacek was found unfit to stand trial.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported:

Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli based the ruling on a report he received from court-appointed psychologist Robert Heilbronner’s examination of Terry Sedlacek.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed the psychologist would testify that Sedlacek is schizophrenic and probably wouldn’t be able to understand the legal proceedings or assist in his own defense.


March 9, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, Health


  1. […] debate over how Terry Joe Sedlacek’s behavior was affected by his Lyme Disease. Sedlacek is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Pastor Fred Winters at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois and has […]

    Pingback by Reluctant to diagnose Lyme Disease? « BaptistPlanet | March 10, 2009

  2. I myself was bitten and infected by a tick while driving truck cross country in Missouri in 1999. My diagnosis was not until 2005. This disease can manifest itself. I am still sick after years of conventional and non conventional treatment. What this disease can do to the thought patterns only one inflicted would know. This germ is a cousin to syphilis, with no treatment if misdiagnosed for any length of time. Yet the media will not even discuss the disease. President Bush had lymes and his bike ride got more coverage. The chimp that attacked the lady in Connecticut had lyme disease. Even the spell check on this forum thinks I have misspelled the word lyme. The ignorance with this disease MUST BE RECOGNIZED. My true and heart felt sadness go’s out to the family of Pastor Winters and the congregation.

    Comment by Marie Freeman | March 16, 2009

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