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How being cured of hepatitis C can change your life

Wendy Overy. Photo/Rebekah Robinson/Listener

“Sometimes I was so tired I could barely take off my shoes. In a way, it was a relief to know there really was something wrong with me,” says Wendy Overy.

For Aucklander Wendy Overy, being cured of hepatitis C has been life-changing.

“I had all this energy I’d forgotten about, it was amazing,” says Overy, who was cured during a trial of the drug sofosbuvir, led by Ed Gane, four years ago.

She started exercising again, she joined a choir and she’s been on several overseas trips.

Overy, 71, got hepatitis C from a blood transfusion in 1982. She found out she had the virus 11 years later, when New Zealand started screening blood donors; she was a blood donor herself and she got a letter telling her she was infected.

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By then, she had extreme fatigue, which she put down to having a full-time job and looking after her two sons. “Sometimes I was so tired I could barely take off my shoes. In a way, it was a relief to know there really was something wrong with me.”

She tried interferon, but the side effects were horrific, including constant nausea. When tests showed that it had had no effect on her viral load after three months, she stopped taking it.

She leapt at the chance to go on the sofosbuvir trial, and she hasn’t looked back. “It’s given me a new lease of life.”

Peter Smith (not his real name) is also relishing the change that being cured has made to his life. “It’s like winning Lotto.”

He got hepatitis C “from being a silly boy” and sharing needles as a teenager, but he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 38. The diagnosis explained his constant tiredness, stomach cramps, nausea and mood swings. He, too, tried interferon, but, like Overy, found it extremely unpleasant and ineffective.

Eventually, he was offered a place on one of Gane’s drug trials. It was a game changer for Smith, now 56. “I just felt completely different.”

Both he and Overy want others to experience the life-changing benefits of being cured.

“I really hope there are people out there who realise they should go and get tested,” says Overy. “It’s a lot easier to treat now, and it’s free. Why would you turn that down?”

This article was first published in the March 2, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.