Lyme Disease Assn. co-founder to be recognized as woman who ‘makes a difference’


Julie Merolla of Warwick will be one of five women honored for “making a difference” when the General Federation of Women’s Club of South County celebrates its 50th anniversary Oct. 21 at Spain Restaurant in Narragansett.

Julie Merolla, LICSW (a licensed social worker), will receive an award in the Social Services category at the Women Who Make a Difference Awards Banquet.

Awards will also be going to Deborah Dunham in the Arts category, Jeannine Silversmith in the Conservation category, Helen Douglas in the Education category and Cindy Duncan in the Grow Hope category.

Merolla has been recognized twice for her advocacy work first in 2000 and again in 2009 by the National Association of Social Workers RI Chapter. She knows it takes tenacity and relentless commitment to advocate for those in need. It was just such qualities that would serve Merolla well when she had to battle for her son’s life. When her 11-year-old son Matt became seriously ill with an unknown disease that was ravaging his body and mind, Merolla began a long arduous journey of seeking the proper medical treatments, battling with both the medical community and the insurance companies, and educating herself on infectious diseases. Merolla insisted on having her son tested for Lyme disease, an often-debilitating disease that mimics a number of illnesses.

Finding the right course of treatment for Matt has been a difficult road. His treatment was not covered by insurance and many of the Lyme-literate physicians were being prosecuted for treating Lyme patients. Merolla saw the need for both education and advocacy regarding Lyme disease. With the help and support of Pat Smith, the president of the nationally based Lyme Disease Association, she assisted in organizing a seminar about Lyme disease at Westerly Hospital. She then founded, along with Lisa Larisa, the Lyme Disease Association Rhode Island Chapter.

Merolla arranged to have one of the key researchers on Lyme disease, Dr. Brian Fallon from Columbia University Medical Center, present his research on Lyme disease at “The Summer Disease of the Month Series” at South County Hospital. She also organized a panel of Lyme specialists to come present at Bryant College about the effect of Lyme disease on the brain. Over 170 medical professionals attended with very positive feedback given.

But Merolla knew that, like her family, there were many families who were not getting insurance coverage for their loved ones. She became involved in a grass roots effort with legislators and other volunteers that eventually resulted in passage of The Lyme Disease Diagnosis and Treatment Act. At that time, Merolla gave compelling testimony before the R.I. General Assembly. The Act mandates coverage for physician-prescribed Lyme treatment predicated upon thorough physician evaluation of the patient and prohibits prosecution of physicians for prescribing antibiotics to treat Lyme disease.

“I knew that there were many people who wouldn’t have treatment without this legislation, and for some patients, that can be thousands of dollars a month,” she is quoted as saying.

Under Merolla’s direction, the LDA RI Chapter has continued its educational work. In 2010, Merolla gave important testimony to the General Assembly in support of the “Beth Bowley Coen Lyme Disease Educational Act.” The bill mandates the Department of Health, in collaboration with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, make Lyme disease awareness and prevention resources available for all public school students in the state. The Lyme Disease Association Rhode Island chapter has provided in-service training and presentations to Rhode Island school districts. Merolla has been able to access grants from the Providence Rotary to help fund her efforts to increase Lyme awareness.

For information or tickets, contact Diana Crane at 783-3389 or


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