Las Vegas woman to speak at D.C. event about hepatitis C outbreak


Karen Morrow never dreamed she would be asked to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

That place, the Las Vegas legal secretary knew, has long been the province of news makers along the lines of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visits the club later this week to talk about her new memoir.

Yet today Morrow will be the featured speaker at the hallowed Washington press institution for the kickoff of 2010's International Infection Prevention Week.

"Getting hepatitis C has changed my life in many ways, and doing public speaking is one of them," Morrow said Tuesday night as she sat inside her home near Aliante Station and played with her two English springer spaniels. "I'm honored, but I'm not much of a public speaker. I'm nervous about it, but one thing I do know: It can't be as bad as hepatitis."

In 2008, local health officials urged 50,000 patients to get tested for hepatitis C, HIV and other blood-borne disease because of unsafe infection practices at clinics run by Dr. Dipak Desai.

The 46-year-old Morrow, who said Desai gave her a routine colonoscopy and endoscopy, was one of the more than 100 people thought to have been infected at the physician's clinics.

Desai and two of his former clinic workers have been indicted by a Clark County grand jury on 28 felony counts that include neglect of patients and performance of an act of reckless disregard of persons or property.

When Morrow speaks today, she will tell the audience and reporters how she went through 54 weeks of treatment to fight the virus off. Nausea, sleeplessness, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, muscle aches and pain, extreme exhaustion, memory loss -- all were side effects of the treatment, which included interferon.

"I literally couldn't get out of bed much of the time," Morrow said. "I couldn't even lift my arms above my head."

She missed so much work with a law firm she had been with for 16 years that she lost her job.

Unfortunately, she had to go through most of her medical treatment alone. Her husband of 23 years, Scott Morrow, was part of a team that opened up a casino in Macau, China. He could come home only every 90 days.

The Morrows had planned on moving to Macau and bought a house there. But they decided against it because of her medical condition.

"We got into real financial trouble at the same time I was going through treatment," she said. "It was very hard."

The event held today in the nation's capital is sponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, a group of doctors, nurses and health care administrators committed to reducing the 1.7 million infections that patients develop in health care facilities each year. More than 100,000 people die as a result.

Evelyn McKnight, founder of the Nebraska-based Hepatitis Outbreaks National Organization for Reform, HONOReform, recommended that Morrow be the keynote speaker at the news conference, which aims to build awareness to infection prevention. In a phone call from her Nebraska home, McKnight explained why.

"Karen is working diligently through community groups to prevent an outbreak like the one in Las Vegas from happening again," said McKnight, who contracted hepatitis C while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer in her native Nebraska. "What she has gone through herself has been terrible."

Today, however, Morrow feels fortunate. She got another job with the Las Vegas law firm of Santoro, Driggs, Walch, Kearney, Holley & Thompson. The hepatitis treatment appears to have worked, with doctors now unable to detect the virus.

"The treatment doesn't work for everybody," she said. "I'm one of the lucky ones."

Whenever she gets the chance to work with community groups, Morrow tells people to support the new One and Only Campaign in Nevada, which stresses one needle, one syringe, used only one time.

"All of us can bring this up and make sure safe injection practices are stressed at health facilities," Morrow said. "We have to expect more of the people who are caring for us and our loved ones. We have to make sure we learned from what happened. I don't think we can stress that too much."

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

 

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