AUBURN — D’Arcy Ames and Gary Couture had each been single for years when they were set up by their mutual longtime hairdresser. She’d had a dream one night of them walking through the door together.

She was right. They clicked.

The couple got engaged in 2010 and Ames moved into Couture’s Auburn house that year, a 1936 cape with floors made from the wood of old box cars at nearby Danville Junction.

In August 2012, Couture developed a crippling headache and broke out in eight bull’s-eye rashes all over his body. Lyme disease. Suddenly unable to work full-time from body aches, joint pain and fatigue, Couture drained his retirement savings to cover the mortgage while he recovered.

That money ran out in January. He’s still sick. She’s since also been diagnosed with Lyme after decades of unexplained pain.

Ames unexpectedly lost her business in Turner this past spring. The couple has until Monday to reach a deal with the bank or face eviction.

Over the past few months, after hearing about their situation, an old friend from her Class of 1994 at Saint Dominic Academy started a fundraiser. Another is hosting a benefit dinner next weekend. Still other classmates are shopping for Christmas presents for the couple’s daughter and Ames’ son.

It’s a sweet and unexpected end to a terrible year.

“It’s something people need to hear about before the holidays, in this day and age. It’s restored my faith in humanity,” said Ames, 43. “It’s been a huge spiritual journey and it has been my friends of faith that have kept me going, and I mean all faiths, and those people that have said, ‘Atta girl, keep your chin up.'”

Ames grew up in Maine but spent summers near Lyme, Connecticut, visiting family. She struggled with her own health issues for decades. “I never had the energy level of a lot of my friends,” she said. A slew of diagnoses followed in her 20s and 30s, including mononucleosis, Meniere’s disease, fibromyalgia, costochondritis, trigeminal and occipital neuralgia. When she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015, it answered a lot but didn’t offer sudden relief.

After her son Calvin was born in 2003, “things really got bad and I was spending, cumulatively, about two weeks a month in bed, just from absolutely debilitating pain and symptoms which made me physically ill,” Ames said.

Her parents lived minutes away and pitched in. It’s why she started her own business, Bear Mountain Botanicals, originally just online, so she could work around her health.

When she and Couture met in 2009 she was dealing with fibromyalgia and trigeminal neuralgia, but overall feeling good. They quickly hit it off.

“He was like the uncle that all the kids loved,” Ames said. “If there was a family pool party, he was the one going, ‘Geronimo!’ and doing the cannonball in the middle of the pool. Outgoing, vivacious, Type A personality, constantly busy.”

They welcomed daughter Vivian in 2011. In 2012, months after leaving his 15-year job at GWI to work for another tech company, Couture was bitten by a tick and their world crumbled.

There were nine visits to the ER over two weeks: His headaches were excruciating, any noise and light hurt. Maybe it was meningitis, maybe West Nile. Three blood tests came back negative for Lyme. The fourth was positive. Antibiotics triggered an allergic reaction.

“I really thought he was going to die,” Ames said. “There were times that his breathing was so shallow that I couldn’t sleep, just listening for him breathing.”

Couture took a three-month leave from work and tried going back, but it proved too much. While the headaches have gotten somewhat better over the years, he said, other symptoms have kicked up.

“I’m in pain, all over, every day, that’s a constant,” said Couture, 50. “Then I’ve got what I’ll call migrating pain. I’ll have a severe pain in my right shoulder that will last for a month or two.” He’ll see an osteopath, try pain medicine, “then it just goes away as quickly as it came about. That pain shifts from my hips to my shoulders to my elbows.”

He’s experienced depression and brain fog, once having to pull over from dance class pickup 10 minutes away to ask Ames for directions back home. She wasn’t able to leave Vivian home with him when the girl was a toddler.

“He would forget to feed her, he would forget to put up baby gates,” Ames said. “It would be like having your 3-year-old watched by your 80-year-old grandfather. His concentration and memory are terrible.”

While that was happening, Ames continued to battle her own health issues, including Lyme and maybe something new: Doctors are trying to diagnose blackouts that started in August. The first one led to a concussion after she struck her head on their cast-iron tub. She said her own struggles have given her the endurance and perspective to see Couture through his sickness.

“This has been the hardest on our kids – they don’t understand,” she said. “They were quite young when we were going through the worst of it. He’s never been the same person since. We’ve never, ever found a new normal.”

Ames opened Bear Mountain Botanicals in 2016 selling soaps, essential-oil-based cleaners and homemade black-fly repellent, hoping to grow that into a steadier revenue stream for the couple with Couture still out of work. The business is how she reconnected with Jennifer Spugnardi, a high school classmate who grew up in Poland and lives now in New York. They’d been friendly but not tight in school. Spugnardi spotted Ames’ shop on Facebook, bought a few things and the two started emailing.

“More of a friendship started all these years later,” Spugnardi said. “She’s a wonderful person.”

Sorry to see her friend struggling, and feeling like she couldn’t do much to help from so far away, she started a GoFundMe page in late October and circulated it among their classmates.

It’s so far raised more than $3,000, and funds go to Ames regardless of whether the $10,000 campaign goal is hit.

Jeff Cote of Auburn, another 1994 grad, said he, too, was having a hard time watching the family face hurdle after hurdle.

“She posted something on Facebook and I just said, ‘I just can’t sit idle anymore,'” he said.

He’s organized a benefit spaghetti dinner to be held Saturday at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Auburn that starts at 4:50 p.m. after Mass.

“It makes you feel good to have your friends that you went to high school with that you haven’t talked to in a long time say, ‘Absolutely, I want to help out,'” Cote said.

Spugnardi said she’s hopeful things will work out.

“So many people now have come together and that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Everybody is really trying hard and I know we can make a difference. Together we can make an enormous difference for this family.”

Ames said Couture had never been late on a mortgage payment until last year, leaning on those banked retirement funds to fill in the gap. He bought the house in 2003.

“It’s a Depression-era house in the greatest sense – it was built from salvaged beams from old barns in the neighborhood and the planks on the walls and floors are from old wooden box cars in Danville Junction,” she said. “Our goal was to restore the home to original.”

They never imagined the savings would run out before Couture felt better, she said. He had a hearing Friday to try to secure Social Security disability benefits. They don’t expect to hear back with a decision until after Christmas.

“It would give us stability and it would give us the peace of mind, so instead of focusing on how to come up with money to pay bills, we can focus on OK, who do we need to go and see and what does it take to get (healthy?),” Ames said.

Couture owes $16,000 to get caught up on the mortgage and cover the fees involved in foreclosure over the past year. On Monday, they’ll offer the bank the $3,000 from GoFundMe and $3,500 gifted to her separately from friends and classmates. Ames’ 77-year-old mother has offered to tap into her own retirement savings to loan them the difference. It’s less than ideal, Ames said, but staves off homelessness, if the bank agrees.

“For people who are proud, which we both are, this is a lesson in humility,” Ames said. “The last couple weeks have just been this overwhelming response of amazing generosity and kindness and connecting.”

“It’s been a long, hard, lonely road,” she said. “The good things that have come of this, I know my family believes in me. I know my friends believe in me, I know they think I’m capable, and I know that’s part of the reason it took so long (to ask for help), because I think everybody thought I had things under control because I’m pretty good at overcoming adversity.”

Ames, who had closed her Turner shop over a dispute with the building’s owner, would like to reopen it down the road, and get the family feeling better. Vivian, too, has immune-system issues and tires easily. They’d like to get her tested for Lyme disease.

Couture, for now limited to physicians who accept MaineCare, said eventually he’d like to see out-of-state specialists to finally get some relief.

“I’ve just been existing with my condition,” he said. “I want to feel better, I want to get back to the person that I was before getting really, really sick. I believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll get there. We’ve received a lot of help in the last several months and I’m so very grateful.”

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