Hurricane Sandy and Hepatitis C Won’t Keep This Patient Down
As Hurricane Sandy approached the United States, millions of people scurried to secure their homes and keep their families safe during this emergency. But for some people, like Gloria Brown* who lives near the New Jersey shore, this hurricane came with the added risk of potentially keeping them from their life-saving medications.
The Storm Before the Hurricane
Gloria’s world was in a whirlwind, even before Sandy’s arrival. Just 12 weeks before, Gloria received the completely unexpected diagnosis of hepatitis C. “I got the hepatitis C virus as a “silent gift” during blood transfusions many years ago,” she explains, although the virus remained hidden in her body undiagnosed for nearly two decades.
Gloria’s situation is far from unique. More than 3 million Americans are infected with this virus but most – 1.6 million of them – have no idea. Hepatitis C, if not treated, can lead to cirrhos
is, liver cancer, and even the need for a liver transplant. Gloria wanted to begin treatment right away, “I didn’t have second thoughts about going ahead with treatment, even after my doctor explained all the side effects,” she shares. In fact, she wasn’t very concerned about the treatment: “I mean, who can possibly get all those side effects?” she remembers thinking to herself.
She started treatment with the cocktail of three medications that are the current best treatment for hepatitis C. After a two-week grace period, the side effects hit and they hit hard. “At first it was only a rash, but that was soon joined by bleeding hemorrhoids and then a fiery itch covering every square inch of my body,” shares Gloria. Her only relief came from ice, a reprieve lasting only as long as the ice was applied. Still, Gloria faithfully took her medications with hopes of a cure sustaining her. Even when her skin became so dry that it was sloughing off and she carried a bottle of lotion everywhere she went, she did not think about quitting treatment. Not even the development of mouth sores – so painful that contact with saliva burned – kept her from continuing treatment.
Through all this agony, she held in her mind a vision of a future without this virus. Then, at the six-week mark into her treatment, right around the time news stations started talking about the possibility of a hurricane approaching the Northeast, “I got the best news ever: a blood test showed that the virus was undetected in my body,” she says. If she could just endure these side effects for a bit longer, she was likely to be cured.
Medications: Casualties of the Storm
As the skies darkened and the winds picked up, Gloria and her family prepared as best they could; they even bought a generator to keep their fridge running. Hepatitis C medications must be kept in a very specific temperature range to remain effective.
As her next batch of medications were being rushed to her home by her specialty pharmacy, so too was Hurricane Sandy. On Monday, October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the New Jersey shore, not far from Gloria’s home. Unfortunately, Sandy got there before her package, which was stuck at a distribution hub in another state.
What could a delay mean for Gloria? It wasn’t just about inconvenience. If her treatment was interrupted, the virus could rebound and this time it could be resistant to treatment. It was a now-or-never moment in the showdown between the virus in her body and continuation of treatment. As the power went out, “I remember thinking: I’ve come so far and endured so much discomfort, would I really have to start everything all over again?” says Gloria. A second round of treatment would have a lower chance of success and even worse was the risk that her insurance might not even approve it. “This could have meant that I would never be treated for the hepatitis C virus!” she says. Hurricane Sandy could be a death sentence for Gloria.
If Gloria’s prescriptions came from a mail-order company, this is likely where her story would end. Her treatment would probably have been delayed until the emergency weather conditions passed. Fortunately, Gloria’s medications come from a leading specialty pharmacy: BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy.
BioPlus Doesn’t Give Up
Gloria’s treatment team at BioPlus, who had been closely monitoring Gloria’s situation the entire time, were working on multiple back-up plans to get her essential medications delivered. And yet her town was flooded and most roads were blocked with downed trees and she, like most in her town, still had no power and only intermittent cell coverage.
Tuesday ticked by; then Wednesday came and went without the arrival of her medication. The package was still stuck at the warehouse while transportation in the Northeast remained at an absolute standstill. Her next series of hepatitis C injections were due to start Friday morning.
“In Gloria’s case, my staff contacted numerous local doctors to see if there were any medication samples that she could use as a stop-gap until the roads were cleared and deliveries could start again,” shares Dr. Maroulis. But when that didn’t pan out, they did not give up. BioPlus tried to transfer Gloria’s prescription to a local pharmacy if they had this medication on-hand, even though that could mean they would lose Gloria as a patient. “Another company might not have done that, but it’s more important to us at BioPlus that our patients not miss a single dose,” he adds. Unfortunately, this was another dead-end.
“Our next step might sound a bit extreme, but we were running out of time and I couldn’t let her miss a single dose of her therapy,” says Dr. Maroulis. This was when the BioPlus team packed a fresh batch of refrigerated temperature control medication and chartered a private jet to fly it to Gloria. For BioPlus, there was no question about the extra cost of handling and transportation. “I’ve never heard of another company doing anything quite like this for a patient,” laughs Dr. Maroulis. “I guess it is pretty unique, but everyday here at BioPlus we go the extra mile for patient compliance; chartering a plane was just an extension of that philosophy.”
After touchdown in New Jersey, the precious package was picked up by a private courier BioPlus had located in this hurricane-devastated area and hand-delivered directly to Gloria’s door. The medication arrived at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. It was no more than a half-hour later before Gloria injected herself with interferon (one of the medications in the treatment plan for hepatitis C), just making the deadline to remain compliant with her treatment. “What a relief it was to have the medication reach me in time,” says Gloria. “The measures that BioPlus took to make sure I got my medicine will not be forgotten.”
Since that frantic Friday morning, Gloria has been tested again and confirmed to still have an undetected level of the virus. Soon, she’ll be able to stop one of the medications in this triple-cocktail for hepatitis C treatment and is on-track for a complete cure from this life-threatening disease. “I’m so grateful to BioPlus for helping me stay on this treatment – this gives me my life back!” adds Gloria.
Not even a hurricane could stop Gloria and her specialty pharmacy, BioPlus, from kicking the hepatitis C virus out of her life.
* Not her real name.
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