WA News Letters Easy Way to Save a Life
Easy Way to Save a Life
Written by Mr Rodney Hatch
Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dear Editor,

In the early 1990s word got around among consumers on the methadone program in Perth. “It looks like most of us have Hepatitis C”. My wife and I weren’t on the methadone program at the time but a friend said to us, “Just about everyone I know who has ever been an injecting drug user seems to have this new thing called Hepatitis C. I’ve got it. You had better have a test.”

My wife and I went to a local GP to have a test. We both tested positive. My LFT at that time was fine. However, my wife’s was problematic. I lived on virtually symptom-free. My wife died within a few years from liver complications. She was very sick before she died, both mentally and physically. I am convinced now that many of her symptoms were hepatitis induced and not from other causes.

No treatment options had been offered to her in those early years. It is likely that her drug use and drinking would have disqualified her from accessing whatever treatment was available at that time.

I remained symptom-free for decades. My LFTs remained in a healthy range. However, I saw many friends and acquaintance’s health deteriorate over that time. Many healthy young people fade before my eyes. I attended a clinic regularly for LFTs and to keep abreast of treatment options.

The various Interferon cocktails were slowly improving over the years but people were not encouraged to take up treatment unless they were becoming very sick. Horror stories concerning the side effects were rife. I had a friend who became quite emotionally unstable and suicidal whilst on treatment. The length of treatment time, the uncertain prospect of a cure and the possible side effects were daunting. Most people I knew shied away.

We have the pharmaceutical means now to cure virtually everyone living with this time-bomb of a disease. I believe doctors need to take a harm reduction, non-judgemental, matter-of-fact approach to broaching the subject with patients they believe may be at risk. Quietly and respectfully having a conversation about IDU history is not condoning drug use. Most people who have experience with IDU are comfortable to discuss it in a setting of confidentiality when they do not feel they are being judged. Some were briefly experimental and some got trapped in it or chose to continue that lifestyle. Either way, all of them will potentially be a huge burden on our health system as they age and as their disease progresses.

I embarked on a course of Harvoni pills earlier this year. Within three months, without any side effects, I was cured. I didn’t think I was very symptomatic but I am surprised at how much better I feel without that virus living in my body. I actually feel 10 years younger. I energetically tend to my work, my garden and my grandchildren.

I encourage all Western Australian GPs to get on board with prescribing the new treatments. It’s an easy way to save a life.

Mr Rodney Ian Hatch, health consumer, ex-hepatitis C sufferer