Check iron levels, advises Duncan

Former North Island MP diagnosed with hemochromatosis

  • Nov. 25, 2015 2:00 p.m.

Scott Stanfield

Record staff

 

John Duncan is afflicted with an inherited disorder that has affected some of his joints and caused cirrhosis of the liver.

The former North Island MP didn’t know he had hereditary hemochromatosis — which causes the body to absorb too much iron from food — until he was treated for another genetic disorder in 2010.

Born with a bicuspid aortic valve, Duncan underwent open heart surgery and received a new valve in December of that year.

He was prescribed iron pills, which he says was standard but was also “the worst thing they could have done.”

Nearly a year later he was treated for a bacterial infection which had established a colony on his new valve. As chance would have it, his doctor ticked the ferritin box on his blood test form. The number came back at 7,000 PPM (parts per million), which is 70 times the normal level. The diagnosis was hereditary hemochromatosis.

“They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me,” said Duncan, whose ancestry is Scottish on both sides of his family. “If you’re Celtic in background, and a lot of people in our society are, there’s a reasonable chance that you may either be a carrier or that you may have it.”

An estimated 80,000 Canadians have hereditary hemochromatosis but are unaware of it. A diagnosis usually happens in the 40s to 60s age range, Duncan notes.

“By that time there’s been significant damage done, so it’s worthwhile to check it,” he said.

“A lot of people have it but don’t know they have it. It’s a slow and steady buildup of iron which affects organs and joints, and can be quite destructive if it’s left unattended. And yet if it’s detected early, you can avoid all consequences.”

Duncan started a full course of phlebotomies in 2013 to reduce the iron in his system. After 90 weekly treatments, his levels dropped to a normal 100 PPM.

His maintenance regime is now a monthly phlebotomy. Each one costs about $350. He also has an annual ultrasound of his liver to ensure the cirrhosis has not developed into cancer.

Duncan considers himself fortunate not to have developed other conditions caused by iron buildup, such as depression or Type 2 diabetes.

“The first place it usually goes is to the liver, so you can get cirrhosis of the liver from iron buildup,” Duncan said. “That has negative consequences. From there it can attack the heart muscle and it can attack the joints. A lot of people that have it end up with hip replacements. It can be quite painful, too, in the knuckles…I have some of those symptoms.”

Duncan was a guest speaker at a hemochromatosis awareness reception last spring on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He spoke about the importance of routine testing, and increasing medical costs attributed to the disease.

He says most people don’t have iron levels checked in their blood.

“If we screen for it, the system would save a lot of money and we’d save a lot of grief for people. So there’s a public education component to it.”

For more information visit www.toomuchiron.ca

 

Just Posted

Comox Valley RCMP looking for suspicious man in Courtenay

Man was frantically waving at vehicles

Comox Valley golfers prepare for another 55+ Games

Competition, camaraderie name of the game

Comox Valley firefighters assist with wildfire effort

Four Courtenay firefighters are in Fort St. James helping with the fight… Continue reading

Woman rescued from Stotan Falls calling for safety measures

3L Developments did not comment on immediate plans to add safety precautions

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

Glacier View residents take a ride on the river

Ground Search and Rescue guides floaters on Puntledge

Authorities mull evacuation order for Zeballos

Smoke billowed from the steep hillsides of Zeballos on Friday evening, as… Continue reading

Safeway union urges prejection of mediator recommendations

Says mediator asks for too many concessions

Fire chases B.C. crews out of their own camp

Crews in Burns Lake had to leave after a wildfire reportedly overtook their sleeping quarters

To address peacock problem, B.C. city moves ahead on trapping plan

Surrey’s new bylaw focuses on ensuring people no longer feed the birds, ahead of relocation

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

About 1,000 Saudi residents called back to kingdom after suspending diplomatic relations with Canada

Bernier diatribe against ‘extreme multiculturalism’ boosts Liberal coffers

Party spokesperson Braeden Caley says online donations doubled, social media engagement quadrupled

‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

MasterChef runner-up an award-winning broker

What started as an interest turned into a global pursuit

Most Read