Melisa French has conquered many challenges in her very full life. As a certified cave diver, she often dives in wells hundreds of feet below the surface in search of Mayan skulls and artifacts. But the biggest challenge of her life came when she found out she had contracted Hepatitis C.
Melisa was vibrantly healthy when she sought a second opinion on hormone replacement therapy from a holistic and alternative health clinic in Florida in 2009. During the single IV vitamin infusion she had there she grew concerned when the nurse did not wipe the tops of the many vials of injectables with alcohol and accessed each with the same needle and syringe before she capped it and put it in her pocket. When the nurse removed the IV tubing from Melisa’s arm, she let the bloody tubing dangle from the IV pole instead of disposing it in a hazardous waste receptacle. There was no hazardous waste container in the room, hand washing sink, or alcohol hand hygiene products. Melisa left the clinic vowing never to go back.
While on a family vacation a month later, Melisa became very nauseous and had constant abdominal pain. She visited her primary physician and over the course of several months racked up tens of thousands of dollars worth of tests. The only finding was elevated liver enzymes and her doctor wondered aloud if Melisa had Hepatitis C. Melisa became very upset at the suggestion but had to accept the diagnosis when an infectious disease specialist came to the same conclusion. No one had any idea how she contracted the virus.
During this time, a letter arrived from the doctor who owned the holistic health clinic. Since her life was so taken up with medical appointments, it sat on Melisa’s desk for three weeks before she opened it. When she did, she was shocked to read that the clinic had done an investigation and concluded that patients had potentially been exposed to Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV at the clinic and urged testing for the viruses. Suddenly everything fell into place, and Melisa knew that she likely had contracted Hepatitis C in the clinic – the very place she went to seek better health.
The Florida Department of Health did an investigation and found that the clinic used single dose vials of medications as multidose vials for multiple patients and that blood from IV lines was spread to the tabletop and patients’ clothing. The patients and staff who were interviewed reported that the clinic used a syringe for drawing up medications from multiple vials for IV infusions and then used the same syringe to draw up medications for other patients’ IV’s. In addition, the nurse used a syringe to flush a port and then used the same syringe to access a heparin vial. In this way 10 patients were infected.
The long months of treatment were the worst days of Melisa’s life. She felt terrible most days and felt even worse if she did not drink a daily gallon of water to rid her body of toxins. She came to know where every rest area was between her home and her doctor’s office two hours away. Even her rescue dog Lucky understood that she was miserable, and offered her comfort by licking her face and not leaving her bedside. Her suffering grew worse when she wrenched her back while picking up her small dog after it had surgery. Her husband then had to carry her wherever she needed to go.
Initially, Melisa was embarrassed and angry that she contracted Hepatitis C in a doctor’s office. She knew that many people thought that those with Hepatitis C were drug users and so she told only her husband and daughter of her diagnosis and went through the terrible weeks of treatment with no outside support.
Thankfully, Melisa has returned to her active, vigorous self. She is thankful for the quality care that she received from a competent, caring doctor during her treatment. Having felt like her life was ebbing away during treatment, she knows now that her time on earth is limited and spends her time in the best possible ways. Out of a sense of responsibility from surviving the life-threatening outbreak, she freely and openly promotes safe injection practices. The ordeal made her stronger mentally and physically and in her words “There isn’t anything I can’t do!”
People think this could never happen to them. Well it also happened to me! In New York and I couldnt do a thing to the doctor either.