Iowa family presented annual check to university hospital for hepatitis C research Tuesday

BY BETH BRATSOS | APRIL 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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Research and treatment options for the hepatitis C virus have come a long way in recent decades, doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics say.


The family of Martha Maahs, an Iowa woman who died from the disease in 2000, has donated to the UI Gastroenterology Division in hopes of progressing toward a cure.

UI internal medicine Professor Warren Schmidt explained the treatment's progress at a keynote speech Tuesday for the Maahs family's $11,000 donation to hepatitis C research in the Gastroenterology Division — part of the $134,000 they have raised since Maahs' death.

Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the liver-damaging virus that can be passed from one person to another through contaminated blood.

"Treatment has improved," he said. "Risk [of acquiring hepatitis C] from transfusion is very low now."

The donation came from funds raised by the family's 11th-annual Clownin' Around golf tournament held Labor Day in Peosta, Iowa, where community members play a round of golf while dressed up as clowns. Maahs' daughter, Niki Perrenoud, said the event — named for her mother's love of clowns — has become far more successful than she had initially expected.

"We really just wanted to do it that first year and see what would happen," she said. "Everyone in our community looks forward to it."

Perrenoud said her mother was diagnosed with hepatitis C about 18 years after her blood transfusion, which was needed for heart surgery. Options for treatment at the time were very limited, she said, but her mother maintained a positive outlook.

"When she found out she had the disease, she acquired it from someone else … and her first thought was, 'Does that other person know they have the disease? That's just the type of person she was," Perrenoud said.

Schmidt said the current number of drugs in development for treatment of hepatitis C has now grown to upwards of 100. However, he said, only a handful are in phase three of testing — after which the drug can go to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

"The treatment of hepatitis C in 2012 is changing at a breathtaking pace," he said. "In the next few years, we will take a grand step in achieving a cure."

UI gastroenterology Clinical Professor Michael Voigt, who received the check from Maahs' family, said he agreed.

"We've just reached a phase of amazing ability of treatments," he said.

Brenda Duello, the executive director of development at the UI Foundation, said the Maahs' golf outing is one of the longest-running philanthropic events that the UI Gastroenterology Division receives support from for hepatitis C research. The unique part of the event, she said, is the name.

"It's somewhat serious golf, and yet they have all these clowns dressed up to go from hole to hole," she said. "They have all these contests and have you play games. All in honor of their mom."

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