Overcoming Hepatitis C
New treatment ends 16-year bout
Stephen Tymchy achieved a feat that he never imagined he’d be able to accomplish. The 65-year-old, married father of two recently trekked across more than 30 miles of the Amalfi coast in Italy. For the first time in a long time, he wasn’t concerned about whether he’d be too tired or weak to complete the journey because after a painful, 16-year bout with Hepatitis C, Tymchy had been cured.
“It just feels good to wake up in the morning and not be feeling bad, let alone to be able to do something like that,” he said. “I’m having much more fun now.”
It’s a big change from how Tymchy had been feeling for more than a decade of living with Hepatitis C. He was diagnosed with the virus in 1999 and struggled with its effects, including nausea, stomach pain, and joint and muscle pain, all the while hoping that the disease would not develop into a more serious illness such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Like many other patients who were diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the late 90s and early 2000s, Tymchy received weekly interferon injections and was prescribed various medications to keep the virus at bay. As a warehouse worker, Tymchy said it was often very difficult to get out of bed when he was on the medications.
“I always had a headache, and I would be sluggish. I almost always felt like I was hungover from the drugs,” he said.
It wasn’t until 2011 that several new treatments for the virus were approved by the FDA.
But just as the medical community began celebrating a breakthrough in Hepatitis C treatments, Tymchy’s condition began to worsen. In 2013, Tymchy’s doctor, Jefferson University Gastroenterologist Robert M. Coben, MD referred him to the Director of Jefferson’s Hepatitis C Center and Associate Medical Director of the Liver Transplant Program, Jonathan M. Fenkel, MD.
Dr. Fenkel immediately recommended Tymchy as a candidate for a new Hepatitis C treatment. Under the new plan, Tymchy would have to take two pills per day for three months, and at the end of the three months, Dr. Fenkel believed he would be cured. Tymchy was not as optimistic.
“I had been dragged down by this disease since 1999, and here he was saying I could be cured in three months,” Tymchy said. “I looked at him like he was crazy.”
After two weeks of taking the new medications, Tymchy’s check-up revealed that his viral load had decreased from more than 500,000 to less than 100. When Tymchy returned to Dr. Fenkel for his three and six month check-ups, his viral count was down to zero.
When asked what he was most grateful for after one year of being Hepatitis C free, Tymchy said, “Living, that’s what I’m grateful for. As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Fenkel saved my life.”