North Carolina outbreak

A Survivor reacts to a new outbreak

Johnny and Janet Robertson
Johnny and Janet Robertson

Recently West Virginia health authorities announced that a cardiac clinic is at the center of an investigation of a potential outbreak of viral hepatitis through unsafe injection practices. Johnny Robertson of North Carolina is a survivor of a similar outbreak and is an active advocate of injection safety. We are grateful to Johnny for his leadership in patient advocacy. Following is his reaction to the outbreak.

In January 2008, I heard the words, “You have hepatitis C.” This diagnosis changed my life completely.

I contracted hepatitis C during a stress test at a cardiology clinic in North Carolina in 2007. Later, it was revealed that a medical technician administered saline solution to a patient who was infected with this life threatening disease, then reused the same syringe to re-enter the vial. This contaminated the vial of medication with the virus. Subsequent patients who received an injection from the saline solution vial were exposed to the virus. Five patients were infected with the virus, but many more were exposed and were urged by the state health department to be tested.

Several weeks ago, West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources sent letters to 2,300 people potentially exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV through cardiac stress tests at Raleigh Heart Clinic in Beckley. From the recent article (“Hepatitis cases linked to Beckley clinic likely caused by human error,” March 29), we know that 12 patients have been infected with hepatitis C or hepatitis B.

This tragic news strikes an eerily similar tone.

In addition to the dozen patients who have been infected, my heart breaks for the patients who sit and wait and worry while results from blood tests come back. I offer them my deepest support.

Outbreaks like this one oftentimes affect entire communities. Families and friends and colleagues are affected. They take a toll on the human psyche, and they are complicated and costly.

The truth of the matter is this could have been prevented. It did not need to happen.

Generally, healthcare in the United States is very safe. But sometimes, unsafe practices are used—brought about by ignorance, desire to cut costs, or the demand to see more patients in a shorter amount of time.

But there are efforts to educate both healthcare providers and consumers about the absolute need for safe injections in all settings.

I work alongside colleagues at Hepatitis Outbreaks’ National Organization for Reform and North Carolina’s One & Only Campaign. I am proud to serve as a spokesman for this award-winning campaign. I tell my story to healthcare providers throughout the state to help reeducate and advocate for injection safety, urging them to use “One needle, one syringe, and only one time!”

Patients need to have a voice in healthcare. No one in the United States should be infected with hepatitis C while receiving healthcare. My hope is to support those who are going through this very difficult time and allow the conversation to begin about tighter safety protocols, in West Virginia and elsewhere. There is help out there for those who need it. I know because I was once in this same situation.

Johnny Robertson

Johnny’s House Party for Safe Injections

Johnny Robertson is a survivor of the 2008 North Carolina outbreak and serves as a member of the North Carolina One and Only Campaign. He recently hosted a house party to talk about injection safety.

Marilee Johnson and Zach Moore of the NC One and Only Campaign with Evelyn and Johnny
Marilee Johnson and Zach Moore of the NC One and Only Campaign with Evelyn and Johnny

We all know it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to prevent an outbreak.

Johnny Robertson is trying to do just that – bring together the community to prevent an outbreak of disease due to unsafe injections. Along with other members of his community, he contracted Hepatitis C from reuse of syringes in a medical office in 2008.

Johnny invited vital community groups to his home on a lovely Carolina Sunday to talk about the outbreak and how to prevent others. He invited nursing faculty from the local community college and local healthcare providers. He invited members of two service organizations that he has been deeply involved in and were instrumental in shaping his response to the outbreak – the American Red Cross and Rotary International. The media was there to give a report to the larger community. Johnny proudly introduced all to two groups he is involved in that work diligently to prevent further outbreaks – HONOReform and the North Carolina One and Only Campaign.

The passion in the room was electric as the participants shared stories of tragedy due to unsafe injections. Everyone had a story to share or a question to ask.

The conversation turned to solutions. What can we do to prevent this tragedy from happening again? We talked about promoting the use of safety engineered injection devices that cannot be used more than once. We talked about the need for educating providers and empowering patients to talk to their providers about safe injection practices. And we talked about putting policies in place that shore up safe injection practices. As Dr Zack Moore of the North Carolina One and Only Campaign observed, “There is no one solution, we need to use all of these options.”

Johnny likes to quote Mark Twain: “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”

Many thanks to our new friends in North Carolina for their passionate support of injection safety. Together, we will help spare other patients, and other communities, from the devastation that occurs when basic injection safety rules are not followed.

We will continue to provide updates on our work in North Carolina. A special thanks to Johnny and Janet Robertson for hosting our fun gathering. And to everyone, for joining us.

“Service above Self”-Johnny Robertson’s story

Johnny Robertson is a survivor of the 2008 North Carolina outbreak and serves as a member of the North Carolina One and Only Campaign workgroup.

Johnny and Janet Robertson
Johnny and Janet Robertson

Johnny Robertson believes in helping others, even those he doesn’t know, whenever he can. That’s why he donated blood at the local Red Cross blood drives for years. But an unsafe injection has put an end to this generous gesture. Read more

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