Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Uncle's Hep C, Gone!

Anyone who has been rescued from death will want to talk about it.  Particularly if their words will help save the lives of others.  Such is the case for my uncle.  His hepatitis C, and the treatments to suppress it, nearly cost him his life.  Now he is completely rid of the virus.  Here’s his story, in his own words.

I am an engineering graduate of Texas A & M University.   I am a Viet Nam veteran who recently celebrated my 66th birthday.  I enjoy travel, various volunteer activities and collecting and restoring old cars.   
I am not sure how I was infected with Hepatitis C but as a veteran I had mass inoculations as well as oral surgery.   In 1978, I was in a nearly fatal auto accident that resulted in a lengthy stay in the hospital. My leg was repaired and during surgery I received 12 pints of blood.
In 1986, I was told that I had elevated liver enzymes and that I should eschew alcohol and other drugs that mal effect the liver.   Two years later, I was diagnosed with gall stones and decided to donate a pint of blood in advance of the surgery in case it was needed.   After going home to recover, I received a rather startling letter, informing me that my blood was unfit and would be destroyed.   My doctor then told me that I probably had non-A non-B hepatitis and that as long as I continued to abstain from alcohol there was little concern.   Hepatitis C was not even codified or noted as a distinct disease until about 1990 ergo the term non A non B Hepatitis. C was not thought to be a serious or deadly disease as it sometimes took years to manifest in symptoms.
In 1996 my Internist noticed that my liver enzymes had continued climbing and referred me to a Gastroenterologist who performed a biopsy that confirmed that I had Hepatitis C and Stage One scarring. Early the next year I began what became some of the hardest years of my life.   I had 4 different versions of Interferon and Ribavirin treatments for seven of the next 8 years and ending in 2005. I was a responder but never cured.
I weighed 145 pounds at the end of that period of time, lost my job and my spouse.  After ceasing Interferon, my health rebounded but my viral load continued to climb as did my liver enzymes.  My esophagus was also deteriorating and I was on a list for transplant.
Fortunately, God had other plans as the last few years I was treated at BAMC in San Antonio and had kept in touch with my nurse for several years.   I sent her an email in late 2011 to say Merry Christmas and learned she and her husband had returned to Texas.   She was working with some of the doctors who had treated me at BAMC. They were doing clinical trials for AbbVie Labs and having success in treating Hepatitis C.   I wrote back and asked if any guinea pigs were needed.  Angie almost immediately wrote back and told me to come see them on Friday.  That began what is nothing short of a Miracle.  In one week my liver enzymes were declining and my viral load had dropped from nearly 2 million to 25.  After two weeks my enzymes were in normal range and there was no virus.
I had zero expectations but was encouraged by the stellar early results.   At the end of treatment and after one year I was given a “cured” letter.   One of the doctors who had treated me at BAMC came in with a big smile on his face, looked me in the eye and said, “You are cured”.   After being mal affected from this disease, years of unsuccessful and difficult treatment, being told you are CURED is beyond words to express.   It was emotional, physical and certainly Spiritual.  
Life is a Gift and rather than traveling a path that was based on being prepared for deteriorating health and very likely an earlier death, I have been given an opportunity to live and relish a healthier outlook than I could ever imagine.  I did nothing to earn or deserve much less expect such an amazing gift but I hope that I can give back a little by testifying to the immense blessing that I have received.  
Friends that have known me for many years have told me that they have the old John back.  I am not sure about that but I am older and I feel better than I have in many years without the bleak cloud of a deadly disease continuing to erode my being.   I am stronger, less irritable, laugh more and have much joy in contemplating the future.
I cannot easily verbalize my thanks and gratitude to AbbVie.  This is not about me but about God's Healing Grace and the many dedicated health professionals who devoted their lives to finding a cure.   I am obliged to all the people I know and the many others I never met for making me part of the cure.   There is hope for those who have Hepatitis C.

If you know someone with hepatitis C, please forward this to them and encourage them to talk to their doctor.  Even if they do not opt to use the AbbVie protocol (which has just now been approved by the FDA) it's important for them to get examined and treated before further liver damage is incurred.  Transplants and end of life treatments can be extremely expensive, not to mention the risk of an early demise.  If they would like to speak with my uncle, contact me and I will put you in touch! 

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