MEDICAL

LARRY MACK: BACK FROM THE BRINK
Experimental Drug Restores Health to Former Pro Duckpin Bowler Afflicted with Hepatitis C


It’s a joy to report on the good fortune of individuals who excel in their field of athletics. But it’s a far more special and satisfying feeling to bring news of a man's victory in life to people who can benefit health-wise from an article. The story of Damascus, Maryland’s Larry Mack is one that will undoubtedly provide optimism and hope to anyone who suffers a similar affliction as to what Mack went through.

Larry Mack, age 60, is a Vietnam war veteran. He’s seen the worst parts of war, and the bitter parts of life. But his good natured personality expresses that he’s also seen the good things, as well. As a bowler, Mack has been through wars on the lanes, including the rough and tough competition on the Virginia pro tour. He's conquered personal goals, and is one of the select few bowlers who's posted an all-spare game, featuring the unlikely scenario of converting 10 consecutive single pins for spares.

But Larry’s most challenging conflict began in 2006, when taking a routine physical examination en route to obtaining his Department of Transportation license for Montgomery County. At this time it was found that his liver enzymes were raised at a high level, and he was subsequently diagnosed with the deadly medical condition, Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is known as the “Silent Disease”. It destroys a person’s liver, with no symptoms or warning signs. A person will only notice symptoms of the killer disease ‘at the end’, when the liver begins to fail.

When the disease was first diagnosed, Mack’s general practitioner didn’t really provide much direction for Larry on getting the proper treatment, and the condition wasn’t really handled as a ‘life or death’ matter. Two years later in 2008, after more physical exams, Mack’s “viral load” was getting more and more aggressive, and things were progressively becoming a matter of concern. At this time, a liver biopsy was done, and it was determined that the disease had moved to a “Stage 4” level, which the doctors referred to as being ‘pretty bad’. At this time, Larry switched doctors and became acquainted with physicians who were more familiar with this branch of medicine. In the year that followed, Mack underwent two separate treatment projects to combat the illness, which involved small doses of chemotherapy, but neither proved at all effective. It was at this time that the father of a friend of Larry’s put him in contact with a specialist in the field, Dr. Mark Sulkowski of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. This friend called Dr. Sulkowski’s office, related the condition, and Sulkowski’s office immediately called Larry back. Upon Mack’s consent, Sulkowski enrolled Larry in a new program as part of a 50-person test case across the United States, utilizing a potentially promising, experimental drug. The drug would be used in conjunction with the prior treatments’ attempts, which would continue to involve the small doses of chemotherapy. The project would be lengthy, as it entailed a 48-week process, including daily intake of prescribed pills, and a weekly hypodermic self-injection into the stomach. Additionally, a visit to the doctor’s office once a week was on the agenda for blood testing to determine statistical counts in the blood, also verifying whether or not other parts of the body would not be affected by the treatments.

After 24 weeks had gone by, seemingly with no results occurring from the treatments, Larry had become a little bit impatient and was contem­ plating quitting the procedure. He asked the doctor if anything was happening. With the projected treatment being for 48 weeks, and with the drug being experimental, there were a lot of 'unknowns', and the medical staff could only encourage Mack to continue. After giving the matter thought, Larry decided to hang in and continue with the second half of the program. 

The 48-­week project finally ended. Shortly thereafter, Larry got a call from the doctor’s office. It was the best phone call Mack had ever received. The office had left a message for Larry that he was “CURED”.

For Mack, a miracle had happened—going from being a man with his days numbered, to a man in perfect functioning health, all things considered. Even though, the disease had destroyed ¾ of his liver, he still had ¼ functioning, and it’s possible to live a normal life with only ¼ liver, according to the doctors. It was ironic that Hepatitis C was known as the 'silent disease', and throughout the 48 week treatment period when nothing seemed to be happening, the cure was working just as quietly.

About this silent disease. A person contracts it through the blood of infected individuals. Mack doesn’t exactly know how he encountered the infection, but recalls and deduces that he got it in one of two ways. Either he contracted it through the bloodshed he encountered during the war days of Vietnam, or by a blood transfusion that he received in 1984 in another instance. It wasn’t until 1992 that Hepatitis C actually was branded with an official name. Prior to that, any related conditions were classified as ‘scerosis of the liver’. 

As is the case in so many medical cases, Larry’s cure is not a guarantee that every test case ends with the same result. None of the other test cases have been publicized pointedly from this study, but at the very least, even if Mack’s case was the only one to have been a success, that’s still a 2% success rate as opposed to 0%, meaning that if 1,000,000 people are afflicted with the same condition, 20,000 have a chance for a cure. But it’s a pretty safe bet that Larry isn’t alone in his cure, as the FDA is scheduled to approve the experimental drug sometime in the year 2011. Until then, however, the name of the drug legally can’t be disclosed to the public.

For those individuals with the Hepatitis C affliction, a ray of hope now exists for recovery. Any scenarios that parallel Larry Mack’s case should be forwarded to the office of Dr. Mark Sulkowski at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, as there is indeed hope now for a potentially large group of individuals who may otherwise have a very gloomy outlook for the future.

Mack’s advice to the public is two-fold. First, Larry says “If you have a serious medical condition, see a doctor who specializes in that condition, and don’t leave your fate up to a general practitioner". And secondly, Larry advises that people who may have had blood transfusions in the past, should get a simple blood test done so that your liver counts can be checked. 


*Mark S. Sulkowski, MD is an Associate Professor of Medicine and serves as the Medical Director of the Viral Hepatitis Center in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Gastroenterology/Hepatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Dr. Sulkowski has been the principal investigator for numerous clinical trials related to the management of viral hepatitis including novel agents. He is the co-investigator for adult patients at the Johns Hopkins site of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Hepatitis B Clinical Research Network.


**Article reprinted from the Fall 2010 edition of the North American Bowling News