Meet ALF Patient Advisory Council Member Navin Vij, MD
There are many paths to patient advocacy and many compelling stories. Navin Vij, a young doctor from Cleveland, only learned that he had hepatitis C four years ago, and in that time, has made an incredible difference in advocating on behalf of people living with the disease.
In fact, in March, he joined ALF representatives in Washington, DC, participating in the Digestive Disease National Coalition’s 26th Annual Public Policy Forum. There he helped brief participants from around the country on federal health care legislation and policy and met with congressional leaders to discuss issues of concern to those living with hepatitis C.
Navin is a member of ALF’s newly formed Patient Advisory Council.
Below, he shares with us his reasons for speaking out.
Tell us about your story. How did you find out that you had hepatitis C? What was your reaction?
My story dates back to the summer of 1983 to the end of June, when I was born a premature baby. I spent the next several months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit receiving various treatments including frequent blood draws, breathing supports and several blood transfusions. Fast-forward 26 years later to my first year of training after medical school to become a full-fledged physician. While performing a procedure during an overnight shift, I was incidentally needle-stuck. Reluctantly, I went to our employee health services where I had my blood drawn to be routinely checked. A few days later, I received a phone call that forever changed my life. “You have hepatitis C,” I was told. I was shocked. I was scared. As a physician with some limited medical knowledge about the disease, the questions abounded in my head – “How could this be? Do I have cirrhosis? Am I going to need a liver transplant? Am I going to die?”
Why did you want to be an American Liver Foundation patient advocate?
There is a saying that my mother used to tell me during childhood that has stuck with me: “Everything happens for a reason – the challenge in good and bad is to find out why.” Looking at my own experience with hepatitis C and in finding reason for it, I realized that I was lucky. I was lucky to get needle stuck to learn of my diagnosis – a disease I likely had contracted that summer of 1983 through multiple blood transfusions. I was lucky to have support in the form of friends and family to help me through my own journey. And I was lucky to have access to good treatments that allowed me to be cured of my disease. My desire to become an ALF patient advocate stems from my desire to help others who may be infected to not only learn of their diagnosis but to understand that there is a cure. New treatments have dramatically increased the cure rates for hepatitis C while limiting many of the difficult side effects so many patients previously had to endure. Millions of Americans living with hepatitis C need to know that they too can be cured. But they first need to know that they have the virus.
What does being on ALF’s Patient Advisory Council mean to you?
It means a great deal. Through shared experiences with other current and former patients with hepatitis C, the Patient Advisory Council is fundamentally about hope. Hope that those lacking a diagnosis can be tested to simply know. Hope that those who do know of their diagnosis can find quality access to treatment and support. And simply hope that all of those affected by hepatitis C know that today, being cured is a reality.
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