David's Story: Hep C made me stronger
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There was a time when David did not tell people he had hep C. Despite the challenges imposed by living with chronic hepatitis C, David says his positive attitude and the love and support of those around him have been vital.
“The best thing that ever happened to me is what I went through. It’s made me a stronger person,” he says.
David was born in New Zealand, living on the streets from the age of nine and faced many challenges during his childhood. He was in and out of foster homes, remand centres, and often around drugs. David had no real education and ended up in a job cleaning sewer and water drains in an earthquake zone.
“One day I went home and noticed sores on my face. I went to see a few doctors, but they weren’t sure what it was,” he recalls. In the months that followed David started feeling weak and too tired to work.
In 1987, at age 29, David was told he had hepatitis B. “The hospital told me there was nothing that could be done and to just get on with it.” Three years later, further tests revealed David in fact had hepatitis C.
David said he will never forget the advice a young doctor gave to him. In fact, it prompted his move to Australia in 1994 with four young children. “I was told by this young doctor that one day I would need a transplant. He said my best bet was a hospital in Brisbane that was moving ahead with transplants.”
“I went through a lot of stigma in New Zealand. That’s part of the reason why we left. My children weren’t allowed to play with other kids. Nurses would say in front of you ‘he’s got hepatitis’ and they’d back up.”
Six months after moving to Australia David became very fatigued and jaundiced. He was referred to a specialist at the Princess Alexandra (PA) hospital in Brisbane. “When I went to that clinic all the stigma had gone. The understanding was there. There were posters about hepatitis, eating well and exercising.”
Over the years David visited the hospital regularly for blood tests but says he received mixed messages about hep C treatment and found it difficult to ask for help. “I didn’t return to the hospital for six or seven years. I was very stubborn at the time, after living on the streets as a child I had no respect.”
It was not until David suffered a massive bleed in 2005 from an ulcer that he says he got a reality check. “I realised how important life is. I never thought I’d see my kids grow up.”
Through the support of the Gastroenterology and Hepatology department at the PA hospital David says he became a better patient. “I started engaging with the system. I had check-ups every six months.”
In 2007 David’s condition deteriorated, he felt frail and his liver and kidneys were failing. “By Christmas 2008 I wasn’t moving very much. I’d given up. One Sunday I went to the markets where I worked and said goodbye to everyone. I didn’t think I’d be around for another week.”
Later that same day David received the call that would change his life. “I got the phone call that night saying I was getting a transplant.”
After spending three weeks recovering in the hospital David said he felt like a new person.
Even though David had received a new healthy liver he still felt like he was living a life sentence. “Before I got treated for hep C I was told I was in trouble. The virus was starting to destroy my transplanted liver. I didn’t really worry because I’d been down that track before. It was out of my control. All I could do was stay as healthy as I could.”
In 2018, David’s specialists agreed he could be treated with the new hepatitis C direct acting antiviral medication. “They gave me a slow dose over six months. I did that and the rest is history.”
David’s own journey has motivated him to support others going through a similar experience. He currently works with Donate Life, an organisation working to improve organ and tissue donation and transplant outcomes in Australia. David has also been involved as a consumer advisor for Queensland Health to make improvements to the hospital system for patients.
“For anyone that has a health condition, my best advice is to keep motivated. The main reason I want to share my story is to get the message out to never give up,” David said.
David’s Tips For Keeping Healthy
- Get a good doctor
- Eat good food including fresh organic fruit and vegetables
- Avoid alcohol, drugs and smoking
- Drink clean, filtered water
- Listen to your body and get plenty of rest
- When you can, do some exercise
- Look after your mental health – surround yourself with positive people.