Hope for Hepatitis C © London Acupuncturist Roisin Golding for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

“Sometimes I lapse. Like last week I had two cups of coffee and some chocolate but I don’t go off the rails for long.”

Off the rails? Does this man know what off the rails means?

Unfortunately, yes, more than most. John Cahill had his first bottle of whiskey at the age of ten. “It was in my veins before I was born,” he says. “It’s in my character and physiology, like my father and his father before him. We’ve all been alcoholics. Just like you’re seeing second- and third-generation drug addicts now.”

A sobering thought. Cahill has also used drugs since he was 14, quickly progressing to intravenous use. He, too, has a son, now aged 10. Like father, like son?

Six or seven years ago people wouldn’t have given Cahill or his kid much hope. By his early 20s he had been diagnosed as having hepatitis of what was then called the non-A non-B variety. Doctors knew his liver was inflamed and liver-function tests were abnormal, but that was about it. Generally, the virus wasn’t considered a big enough problem in those days to screen for it in blood products. By 1989, the year the virus was finally identified as Hepatitis C, there were 200 million people infected worldwide.

Throughout the ’80s and early ’90s Cahill was too stoned to notice any symptoms. Maybe it was because his son was starting to walk and talk, or maybe it was because three out of four of the lobes of his liver had developed cirrhosis, but seven years ago Cahill finally went for drug rehabilitation. Only then did he notice his symptoms — constant nausea, cramps, diarrhoea, dizziness, gritty eyes, muscle aches and pains plus total exhaustion.

He kept drinking, and because the condition was considered incurable, nobody offered him Western medication. Instead, he was referred to a National Health Service facility, the Gateway Clinic in South London, which specialises in treating addictions with Chinese medicine.

The clinic developed a four-step program for treating addiction and addiction-related disorders, especially Hepatitis C and AIDS.

The first step was to get Cahill off drugs, using simple ear acupuncture.

They also emphasise Qi Gong and Shen Qi, which he considers an essential component of the program. Qi Gong is an exercise routine for both body and mind. Shen Qi focuses on “the art of communication.” But Cahill was so paranoid (a common symptom of both drug abuse and hepatitis C) — so sure that everyone was looking at him, that he wouldn’t do the exercises for almost eighteen months. Instead he watched the other patients through the clinic’s windows. In summer, when the class moved to the garden, he would peep out from the inside.

Meanwhile he had body acupuncture and the specially developed formulas for hepatitis. Within two weeks of taking the herbs his energy had increased, his nausea and diarrhoea were almost gone, and his muscles no longer ached. Within three months the general malaise had all but disappeared. That was seven years ago. Considering that 75% of his liver has been destroyed, he feels his health is better than ever without ever taking Western medication.

After eighteen months of treatment, Cahill finally plucked up the courage and joined the Qi Gong class.

“Within about two minutes it felt like a home coming. It’s a gift of re-awakening. After spending time in prisons and living on the streets you feel so vulnerable and fearful. Qi gong gives you a network of experiences, inside yourself, that you can rely on. The Shen qi teaches you to be true to yourself. You can learn to accept sincerity. That’s the biggest gift this has given me — it allows you to know yourself.”

Such eloquence from a man who spent almost thirty years dedicated to self destruction didn’t come easy. He first had to become acutely aware of his own vulnerability and his low self-esteem. And as much as he feared change, he knew he couldn’t go back to the way he was.

Since then, the clinic has treated 20 % of London’s hepatitis C patients with Chinese herbs and although caution is required when using herbs, their expertise has ensured that not one adverse reaction has occurred in fifteen years. This has not escaped the attention of medical providers in Britain and abroad. National Health purchasers in Great Britain, as well as insurance companies in the United States, have all approached the clinic for help in developing safe and inexpensive alternatives (to the usual treatment drugs: interferon with ribaviron). He is already engaged in developing self-help programs, in Norway, Ireland and Turkey.

And Cahill’s child? Like father like son. They’re both doing Qi gong and Shen Qi.

“He amazes me,” says Cahill proudly. “I hear him talk during Shen Qi. You can’t call it a childish outlook. I mean it’s his own valid outlook and it’s fantastic what he sees and can understand.”

Is there hope after Hepatitis C? You bet.

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