Gold Medal Paralympic Athlete Overcomes Toughest Challenge in Hepatitis C
California man with osteogenesis imperfecta beats HCV after treatment with Harvoni.
“I’ll tell you this, anything is possible for you in your life. I’m a witness to that,” Wayne Washington said of his long journey overcoming hepatitis C virus infection. “I’ve been through a lot of pain. I know pain, but I’m grateful for the pain because the pain helped me to be a better person.”
The 63-year-old California resident was born with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a brittle bone disease that affects approximately 25,000 to 50,000 people in the United States.
Although he has been faced with many challenges throughout his life, his diagnosis of hepatitis C (HCV) in 1986 came as an additional blow.
“I felt devastated. I got a fatal disease and there’s no cure for it,” Washington said. “What are you supposed to do about it?”
Washington had little knowledge of HCV. Those around Washington told him that HCV can cause liver cancer, and if it’s not taken care of can lead to negative effects on different organs in the body.
Growing up as a child with OI, Washington suffered numerous injuries and faced numerous amounts of operations. He believes that the myriad blood transfusions are what ultimately led him to contracting HCV.
“I’ve had 35 fractures and 21 operations,” Washington said. “You’ve got to remember I had a lot of surgeries as a child and back then they didn’t test the blood. So they were giving blood to people and they didn’t test it. I think I really got it from the transfusions, because I never used drugs — intravenous drugs. I’ve partied in my life. I’m not an angel here, but I never did anything crazy. That’s where I really think I contracted the hep C from.”
Washington experienced little symptoms before his diagnosis, but in 1986 others were starting to see a change in his appearance.
“Back then I was hanging out with my friends and we would drink and party,” Washington recalled. “Once someone said to me that my skin wasn’t looking right and that my eyes had become kind of yellow.”
Washington admitted that not much had changed after that comment, but when he finally saw a doctor he was told he had HCV.
“There were no treatments back then, so I was doing milk thistle, taking high doses of vitamin c, multi-vitamins, and continuing to work out,” Washington said.
Washington saw the importance of staying in shape and continuing to work out, which helped him to maintain a positive attitude.
While dealing with these hurdles, Washington competed as a world-class weightlifter in the Paralympics and even represented the United States in the world championship, where he took home the gold medal.
Eventually, interferon came onto the market but the side effects were so bad that he only took it for 2 months before stopping treatment.
“I was irritable, suicidal, and lost weight,” Washington said. “I didn’t like that my whole attitude changed, it was just miserable. I did it for 2 months and I told the doctor no more.”
Years later after visiting a hepatology doctor, Washington was told he was an eligible candidate for the new drug Harvoni. After 6 months of treatment, HCV was eliminated from his body and he has been hepatitis free for a year now.
“After I took the drug, I remember the first week it was like I was alive again, it was like I was reborn,” Washington recalled. “This is a miracle, it was beautiful. I don’t have to think about hep C anymore. Now I just have to worry about other knuckleheads in the world.”
Although Harvoni has been successful for many individuals who suffered from HCV, it comes with an enormous price tag that limits access for many patients.
“There are 3 million people here in America, and throughout the world — in China and Vietnam and all those other places over there – they’ve got it worse and they don’t have access to this medication,” Washington said. “Unfortunately, there are many people here in America who, because of their medical insurance can’t cover this particular drug which is really sad. We got to get the word out and try and get the cost down a little bit so that people can survive and live.”