“It is so satisfying as a doctor and a researcher, to be able to work on research that actually cures people,” says Professor Alex Thompson. “Elaine Fitt is a living example of what we can achieve. It’s why I do what I do.”
“I’m just over the moon,’ says Elaine Fitt, following her seemingly miraculous cure from the debilitating virus she endured for four decades. Elaine contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion following the birth of her first daughter in 1975, but was not diagnosed until 33 years later.
“I was stunned and went into shock,’ says Elaine. “I was also a little frightened as I didn’t know much about Hepatitis C at the time. All those years of symptoms started making sense and what followed was a real rollercoaster journey for me.”
Hepatitis C affects an estimated 230,000 people in Australia. It’s the most common reason for liver transplantation and a leading cause of liver cancer. Most patients have no symptoms, meaning that diagnosis is frequently delayed for many years, often until the disease has progressed to the advanced stage.
“After my diagnosis I undertook the conventional Hepatitis C treatment and took the drugs Interferon and Ribavirin for six months. The treatment involves weekly injections and the side effects actually made me feel worse. It was almost impossible to keep up with my full time job and enjoy quality time with my family. I had no energy and constantly worried that I’d develop liver cancer. Thankfully all that changed last September when I took part in a clinical trial at St Vincent’s. After only 12 weeks on new anti-viral medications the virus was cured entirely, giving me a completely new lease on life. I’m now hopeful that others can access this life-changing treatment.”
Director of Gastroenterology Prof Alex Thompson couldn’t be more pleased with Elaine’s results and those of other trial participants. “Elaine’s experience really demonstrates the extraordinary medical advances and potential that this new treatment represents,” he says.
“Known as direct acting antivirals, or DAA, the medications have a 90+ per cent cure rate. They take Hepatitis C from a life-threatening chronic disease to one that can be cured – saving hundreds of lives and helping reverse the growing burden of liver disease in Australia.”
“We now want to see these life-saving treatments become accessible and affordable for the sickest patients as soon as possible. So the crucial next step is for health professionals and government to work together to advocate for these new drugs to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS),’ says Prof Thompson. ‘While the first all-oral DAA regimen has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration without the PBS listing the drugs are likely to be expensive.”
Elaine is also keen to see the drugs listed on the PBS and believes a change in community attitudes to people living with Hepatitis C is also important. “My life couldn’t be more different now,” concludes Elaine.
“I’m enjoying my newfound energy with my family and beautiful grandson, at work and at the gym, where I’m working on getting my fitness back. I’d now like to help educate the broader community about Hepatitis C, so we can put a stop to the stigma that’s often unfairly associated with it. Ultimately I’m looking forward to seeing this amazing treatment listed on the PBS as soon as possible, so it can transform the lives of other patients, as it has mine.”