Christopher Meloni Stars in New Lyme Disease PSA, Reflects on Its 'Dark' Impact on His Family (Exclusive)

Christopher Meloni Stars in New Lyme Disease PSA, Reflects on Its 'Dark' Impact on His Family (Exclusive)
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“Witnessing the ones you love more than anything in the world being relentlessly tortured before your eyes… it gets really dark,” the actor tells PEOPLE

<p>Global Lyme Alliance</p> Christopher Meloni

Up to 60% of early-stage Lyme disease cases are missed, and Christopher Meloni has seen firsthand how brutal the disease can be when it progresses into a chronic state.

The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actor recently spoke to PEOPLE about how the disease has directly impacted his family as he becomes the latest celebrity ambassador to star in a new PSA for the Global Lyme Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to curing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases through research, awareness and empowerment for patients.

Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating infection caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. In the PSA — which was directed by Erich Bergen — Meloni, 62, details the severity of the disease’s symptoms and the reality of those who have to live without any relief.

“My family was affected by this disease in a very dramatic way. And it was a whole big learning curve because it took us two years to get the correct diagnoses. It was pretty heartbreaking,” Meloni tells PEOPLE. “Witnessing the ones you love more than anything in the world being relentlessly tortured before your eyes… it gets really dark. There's no other light that I see, it's the bleakest thing to either experience or to witness.”

Related: Bella Hadid Has Struggled With Lyme Disease — Here's What to Know About the Tick-Borne Illness

<p>Global Lyme Alliance</p> Christopher Meloni

Global Lyme Alliance

Christopher Meloni

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Early stage Lyme symptoms include headaches, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, fatigue and sometimes a rash that has many different shapes including one which may look like a bullseye centered on the tick bite. Late stage Lyme symptoms can include paralysis, agonizing joint pain, neurological problems, severe headaches, problems with memory, hearing, and vision, inflammation of the brain, and inflammation of the heart.

“It presents itself as any number of things,” Meloni says. “In my family's case, we thought we were dealing with a stomach flu and then later it turned into relentless migraines and then we were dealing with arthritis. It's a laundry list of horror show potentialities, and I was surprised how little and poor the information was being given out to the public.”

“And then on top of it, to add insult to injury, you're dealing with organizations that snub you and actively say you are crazy or overreacting, you are wrong,” he adds. “It's a nightmarish scenario to live through.”

Meloni credits his wife Sherman Williams for spearheading their personal research and helping their family find solutions early on. “She left no stone unturned and she was the driving force at getting answers. She was relentless,” he raves. “She’s the hero of all of this.”

Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan/Getty Chris Meloni and Sherman Williams
Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan/Getty Chris Meloni and Sherman Williams

Related: Celebrities Who've Talked About Battling Lyme Disease

In that journey of finding help, the father of two says they connected with the Global Lyme Alliance.

“Our relationship with the Global Lyme Alliance was born in a vacuum of desperation and people looking for answers,” Meloni says. “We felt as though they were our lifeline, our tribe, our community because they were the ones fighting the real fight.”

“You want people to recognize what is happening and empower those that are suffering. And that's what the Global Lyme Alliance is doing for us,” the actor adds. “We're in the boat with them trying to row people in the same direction, what we feel is the right direction towards understanding this disease and finding some kind of solution.”

Meloni urges people to join his and the nonprofit’s mission of raising awareness for more research and supporting patients.

“Lyme disease is one of the fastest growing epidemics and it's woefully underfunded by governmental agencies,” he tells PEOPLE. “Get involved because as a group we're way stronger together and we really have to bring our collective pain together and bring action to it. That's the only way things are gonna get done.”

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Read the original article on People.