A veteran is cured of hepatitis C with treatment from the VA.
Philip Bruce’s family might not have believed his story.
After all, Bruce hadn’t bought it when a physician assistant with VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System first suggested he consider a modern, all-oral treatment for hepatitis C.
“Take a pill? I’m like, what?” Bruce says, recalling a conversation with Sarah Foti.
“Sarah told me it would be a pill a day. Even then, I was expecting the worst with side effects — and it was like, nothing.”
Cured of the hepatitis C virus since 2015, Bruce is now free of the health concerns that accompanied his previous condition. He can now enjoy the freedoms he fought to preserve while serving with the Navy in the Vietnam War .
“I probably didn’t get married or have kids because of fearing I would pass it on,” Bruce says of the virus. “I avoided having a bigger social life because people are ignorant of (hepatitis C).”
Bruce is sharing his story because he knows stigmas born of ignorance prevent even greater results in the fight against hepatitis C . He believes the only reason VA Pittsburgh’s number of enrolled Veterans cured of hepatitis C — more than 750 — isn’t higher is because not enough Veterans are taking advantage of available services.
“I worked at a hospital for 24 years,” Bruce says, “and I’m telling you that the health care from the VA is as good as any treatment anywhere.”
His story backs up that claim.
Diagnosed in the 1970s, Bruce says he “didn’t know what hepatitis C really was…other than bad” until about 14 years later, when his liver enzymes became elevated. A friend who was a nurse recommended against the drugs used at that time to treat hepatitis C. Bruce took her advice after doing his own research.
“The stories of terrible side effects,” Bruce says, describing patients’ complaints of constant headaches and fatigue commonly associated with those early medications. “I just wasn’t interested in having those all the time.”
Bruce did what he could. He stopped drinking. He exercised. He kept his doctor appointments.
Eventually, his liver malfunctioned, which brought him face to face with Foti during treatment.
“I’ll never forget the day she told me I was approved for the new treatment,” Bruce says. “My levels went from 6 million to 15 after a month. After three months, I was cured.
“A pill a day — if I didn’t know I was taking a pill, I wouldn’t know I was doing anything to be cured. You tell me that’s not better than all those side effects.”
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