A 60-year-old woman has vowed to fight for the best available drugs after she contracted Hepatitis C from contaminated blood given to her by the NHS before 1991.
Susan Wathen of Raunds may have been infected 30 years ago, but was only diagnosed last year after a doctor asked if she had received any blood transfusions pre-1991 and suggested she have a test.
The teacher was marking books in Bedford when she received the call saying she could have Hepatitis C and would need more tests.
Mrs Wathen said: “I honestly felt as if someone had hit me.”
Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver, and is passed on by contact with the blood of an infected person.
If left untreated, it can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.
I have never been a drug user, I haven’t had a tattoo, I have never been an alcoholic, so why do I have it?Susan Wathen
Mrs Wathen fears there are many people out there who are undiagnosed.
She said: “I have never been a drug user, I haven’t had a tattoo, I have never been an alcoholic, so why do I have it?
“Even now some of the literature coming out telling people they are at risk doesn’t mention the fact that people who have had blood transfusions pre-1991 are at risk.
“Because the NHS had given me this, there was no other way I could have contracted it, so I thought now I will get the best treatment, but I was wrong.”
Various drugs are available to treat Hepatitis C, but a number may not be compatible for Mrs Wathen as she has an underlying health condition, which is linked to why she had scores of blood transfusions when she was younger.
She has been told that the best treatment for her is a newer drug with fewer side effects and a treatment time of 10 weeks in comparison to 24 weeks with other drugs.
Mrs Wathen said: “That treatment is more expensive but it has a 98 to 100 per cent cure rate.
“That’s the drug I want, that’s the drug I am fighting for and that’s what I am going to get.
“They gave me this, I think they owe it to me.”
Mrs Wathen’s case for the newer drug, which has been approved by NICE but NHS England is yet to fund, is being considered by a board at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.
She has been in touch with MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire Tom Pursglove, and she said: “If they do let me have the treatment, all well and good.
“If they don’t, then Tom has said he will fight my individual case with the Secretary of State.”
Looking back over the last year, Mrs Wathen said: “My worst point was when I thought I might have given it to my close family.
“I have had children so they have been tested and if I had given it to either of them I would have been devastated.
“During both of my pregnancies I had blood transfusions but both of them are clear.
“It was an enormous relief.”
And while she waits to find out the board’s decision, she wants more awareness about those who could have Hepatitis C but are completely unaware.
She said: “We need to put it out there, anyone you pass in the street could have it.”
Mrs Wathen doesn’t have to tell people about Hepatitis C, she is more than happy to tell everyone, especially if it raises awareness of it.
She said: “I am perfectly happy for my face to be there to say does this look like the face of someone with Hepatitis C?
“And it doesn’t because they picture drug users and alcoholics.”
Mrs Wathen’s ultimate aim is for all infected by contaminated blood to be treated with the best drugs available at the time.
For more information about Hepatitis C and the support available, go to www.hepctrust.org.uk.