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Airlift Hope Helps Boy Fight ‘Silent Epidemic’

Known as “the silent epidemic” because its symptoms are mild or nonexistent, Hepatitis C is extremely rare in children, with a lower than 1 percent occurrence, compared to up to a 40 percent prevalence in adults.

Like other boys his age, the seventh grader from Johnson City enjoys playing sports. His favorites are soccer, basketball and baseball. He’s also an avid reader. But unlike others, Garrett takes part in a clinical drug trial that produces discomforting flu-like symptoms. He is under the care of Dr. William Balistreri, one of the world’s most foremost authorities on pediatric gastroenterology and liver disease.

As one of some 112 child participants nationwide, Garrett is treated with the drug pegylated interferon along with ribavirin, a regimen currently FDA-approved for adults. He must also travel to see Dr. Balistreri in Cincinnati once a month.

To get to Dr. Balistreri, though, means a long journey from the Volunteer State to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

At one time, Garrett and his father Tom, a retired Army Veteran who served in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm, made the journey as often as once a week for one month, and then traveled there every three weeks.

To drive or fly that distance so often would be time-consuming and expensive, so Garrett and his father are thankful that Airlift Hope of America provided the frequent lifts needed to transport them to Cincinnati. Tom said his son was “apprehensive at first” about flying, but that Garrett “is getting used to it,” and that the pilots have been helpful and friendly.

André Hawkins is the Clinical Research Coordinator in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the hospital, and he realizes what a huge role Airlift Hope of America plays in Garrett’s treatment. Garrett and other children enrolled in clinical studies “wouldn’t be able to participate otherwise,” notes André.

Airlift Hope of America gets Garrett where he needs to be—and back home again.

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