One year ago Pavel Rucsineanu was running out of options.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis was ravaging his lungs. And the disease had evolved into an incurable form, doctors said.
It’s like an “infectious cancer,” Dr. Tetru Alexandriuc said at the time. “We have no other medicines” to treat Pavel, the doctor added. Although he wouldn’t say it, the doctor expected TB would kill Pavel.
But Pavel’s wife, Oxana, had other ideas.
Oxana had managed to get herself cured of TB. Then she set out to help her husband. Her strategy: Get Pavel some of the new medicines that she’d heard could attack even the most deadly strains of the bacterium.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first new TB medicine in 40 years. The drug, called bedaquiline, was developed specifically for treating drug-resistant tuberculosis. But Oxana couldn’t get the drug imported to Moldova.
"We wrote a lot of letters to the government," she says. "And the official answer was that there is no legal framework to bring a medical product that is not yet authorized in our country."
So Oxana went after another drug: an antibiotic, called linezolid, which the European Medicines Agency had recently approved for use against TB.
Getting this drug also proved to be a huge challenge. Moldova hadn’t yet approved linezolid for use. And the medication was prohibitively expensive.
Pfizer has linezolid patented under the brand name Zyvox. And a one-month supply costs more than $4,000 here in the U.S.
But Oxana was still not deterred. She contacted the nonprofit Treatment Action Group in New York and managed to get a six-month supply of linezolid for Pavel.
"From the time you saw him [a year ago], he’s gained 8 kilos [17.6 pounds]," Oxana says. "He’s feeling much better. … He’s saying he’s cured already. But we know that we have some time in front of us with this TB. We have to follow the treatment to the end. But his results [so far] give us big power to move on."
Top photo: Pavel Rucsineanu now has access to a new tuberculosis medicine. But he still has to take about 20 pills each day to combat his drug-resistant infection.
Bottom photo: Oxana and Pavel Rucsineanu fell in love while living at a tuberculosis ward in Balti, Moldova.
Both photos by Jason Beaubien/NPR.