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Second time is a charm for woman finally cured by new Hep C medication

Shelly Edwards is proud of the life she's built. Her flower garden is the best on the block in her Naches neighborhood. She keeps her house spotless. If her grandchildren make a mess when they visit, she doesn't mind. She adores all eight of them.

But life was not always so serene. After a routine blood test in 2004, Shelly discovered she had Hepatitis C. She had no symptoms, but she is pretty sure how she got it: "I was an IV drug user. It was not a total shock because of the life I lived in the past."

Shelly's lucky her doctor checked for the disease that can appear to lie dormant for years while destroying the liver. Hepatitis C is known as the silent killer, because the first symptom is often cirrhosis, followed by liver cancer. Symptoms can take decades to appear.

Treatments available in 2004 were harsh. "The medicine made me so sick I was hospitalized twice." But it worked. Her Hep C levels went down to trace amounts and stayed there until late in 2019, when she was 60.

"I started to feel tired, not like myself. I'm an active person, but I didn't feel like doing anything," she says. "I immediately knew it was Hep C." Tests confirmed the virus was back.

Fortunately, Shelly knew right where to go. The place that helped her the first time — Yakima Valley Memorial's Liver Clinic, and Tanda Ferguson. Tanda treated Shelly the first time, but now the nurse practitioner had a new arsenal of medications to actually cure the virus. New Hep C medications, such as Mavyret and Harvoni, work faster than the old drugs, have few side effects and have a cure rate of 98%.

"She put me on Mavyret, and the new medicine was a godsend," Shelly says. "I was like, 'Wow, this is a wonderful drug!'

"Tanda has compassion. She has answers. She has studied this disease for years and is on the cutting edge of everything. She's behind you all the way, and Yakima Valley Memorial is behind you, too. I can't say enough about it."

YVM's Liver Clinic has cured more than 650 people in Central Washington in the past four years, and most insurance plans cover the treatment. Shelly finished hers in the summer of 2020. "I got a letter and it says right on there: 'Cured.' I'm going to save it forever!"

About 75% of people with Hepatitis C are baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965), who don't realize they have risk factors. With sanitation and safety standards not what they are today, the virus was commonly transmitted through blood transfusions (prior to 1993) and vaccinations (in the 1950s and '60s). Today, people often get it through unclean tattoo needles, unprotected sex, and by sharing IV drug needles.

Shelly has been drug-free for 25 years now. She says no matter what your lifestyle was or is, "Get a test! If you have it, there's a cure. It can save your life."