Unprecedented Life-Saving Treatment for Hepatitis C
Prevention & Treatment How one patient’s hepatitis C and liver transplant changed the way doctors treat liver disease.
At nine years old, Robert Gholston was hit by a car. He received a blood transfusion, which saved his life. Fourteen years later, he found out that transfusion also gave him hepatitis C.
“I really didn’t understand how sick I was,” says Gholston, now 60, who didn’t feel sick at the time.
Medicines doctors gave him didn’t help his condition and made him feel irritable. By 2010, he was getting sicker: feeling itchy, sweaty and tired.
“He didn’t have very long to live. It was a life and death situation.”
“Standard treatments had failed and he needed a liver transplant,” recalls Dr. Robert J. Fontana, professor of medicine and medical director of liver transplantation at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, noting the CDC urges all Baby Boomers to get tested for hepatitis C.
“He didn’t have very long to live,” says Dr. Fontana. “It was a life and death situation.”
In January 2011, Gholston underwent liver transplant surgery. He responded well, but months later, the hepatitis C was aggressively attacking the new liver.
Dr. Fontana wanted to pair two experimental drugs, Sofosbuvir made by Gilead Sciences and Daclatasvir by Bristol-Meyers Squibb, to treat Gholston’s hepatitis C. He asked the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies permission to try the drugs. They all agreed and the medicines worked.
“[Gholston] was the first guy in the world to receive this very potent combination of drugs,” says Dr. Fontana, noting getting the go-ahead to use the drugs was unprecedented, especially since at the time, the drugs were not yet FDA-approved.
Nowadays the drug combo is approved worldwide. It has a high efficacy rate, fewer side effects and gets results quicker than traditional therapies.
Within 11 months of the transplant, Gholston returned to work at General Motors, where he’s worked for 39 years.
“Hepatitis C is a silent killer,” says Gholston, a father of eight, grandfather of eight and great grandfather of three. These days, his liver levels are normal and he’s an advocate for getting tested for hepatitis C, as well as organ donation.