Last month, I wrote that SP4 Dennis Haines (Ret.) was one of approximately 174,000 Viet Nam vets who had contracted Hepatitis C through tainted blood. However, due to the extreme cost of the drug, Sofosbuvir, only about 15 percent have been treated thus far.
After having been hit by two AK-47 rounds to the right side of his head in Viet Nam, 18-year-old Haines was successfully operated on by Chief Surgeon Maj. John Baldwin. While he survived, he remains confined to a wheelchair, but has made the most of his life by contributing, mightily, to local vets in Pennsylvania.
Last month, I asked Haines for any information regarding his condition. In an email he wrote, “Here’s the deal, as I’ve been told: the VA is given X-amount to buy Hep. C meds and was recently only treating the worst cases! That money has run out, but under the Veteran’s choice, [they can go] outside the VA to get treatment and the VA covers all costs.
“It’s almost 3 months now and I still have not heard anything. Not sure what’s going on! I called last week and was told that no nurse was assigned and nothing happens further until then. It’s very frustrating!”
A few days ago, I received an update from John Baldwin by way of a series of email messages between he and Haines.
On March 14, Haines writes, “I now have stage 4 liver damage and referred to Hershey Medical Center to see a doctor Riley, a Hep. C doctor and transplant surgeon in gastroenterology. I see him on March 31!”
“Have you gotten the medication that CURES Hep. C yet?” Baldwin asks. “Would seem that should come first.”
On March 15, Haines writes, “That is the plan! When I see Dr. Riley he will be putting me on the Harvoni (Sofosbuvir) treatment. It’s a 12 week regimen and after that, hopefully the Hep. C will be gone! This appointment is March 31, and I’ll let you know right afterwards what will happen from there.”
“That is exactly what you have needed,” Baldwin says. “It kills me that you were not given Harvoni when it was first available. It CURES Hep. C, and the liver damage stops and can repair itself. Get aggressive if you have to. That medication works and pretty much has zero side effects. Rooting for you man.”
“I’m in touch with a Dr. Smith,” Haines writes back, “who used to treat Hep. C patients at [Pennsylvania State’s Hershey Medical Center]. She was made professor emeritus there when she left to go to NIH [National Institutes of Health]. She is now at the D.C. VA treating veterans there that have Hep. C. She told me they are seeing a 98% cure rate with the Harvoni treatment! It sounds great and she used to work with Dr. Riley at Hershey. I just need to get rid of the Hep. C so that things can get better.”
“The VA denials are a sad chapter in US military history,” Baldwin tells me. “All Dennis gave was half his brain and the left side of his body, and then came home and asked for nothing more than a chance. So, he learned sophisticated computer skills in college, and was the lead architect and designer for the University of Pennsylvania Hershey Medical Center. I hope his liver is not so damaged that even with viral eradication the cirrhosis will progress, as it often does, and take him down – a good man!”