NewsPinellas County


Doctor and former patient meet after 30 years, raise awareness about hepatitis

Decades after Elzo Atwater says he was shot, he is reuniting with one of the doctors on his team, Dr. Bob Wallace.
Bob Wallace and Elzo Atwater
Posted at 11:50 PM, Jul 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-29 00:30:52-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A decades-in-the-making meeting between a doctor and his former patient is raising awareness about hepatitis.

Elzo Atwater and Dr. Bob Wallace's story goes back to the 1980, when someone shot Atwater and his brother after a day of catering.

"I had a football banquet and a wedding," Atwater said. "So when I came back to the restaurant a young man had put a gun on me and I didn't think he was going to shoot. I did everything he said."

Atwater said his brother lived and was able to call 911. He was taken to the hospital, as community members started donating blood.

Inside the operating room, Wallace said he was part of a team working to save the then 26-year old's life.

"I happened to be the doctor on call who got to help hold my finger in the hole in his chest, in the hole in his heart," Wallace said.

Decades later, Wallace said he learned Atwater was still alive. They spoke by phone in 2016 and met in person Sunday for the first time in years.

"It's amazing, I've thought about this man for 37 years," Wallace said. "He had the tears and I've had the tears."

"I was crying, my heart was palpitating and it was awesome," Atwater said.

They chose to meet on World Hepatitis Day. They said Atwater later learned he had hepatitis C.

Wallace serves as the medical director for the 'Love the Golden Rule' clinic. It is a non-profit organization working to help those under-insured or uninsured who have hepatitis C in the Pinellas County.

"You don't know you have it and then when you get it, you get the help and so that's what happened to me. And then I met him after I was cured," Atwater said.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 71 million people have a chronic hepatitis C infection across the globe. The day also sheds light on other strains, such as hepatitis B and A.

LINK: Everything you need to know about hepatitis A in the Tampa Bay area

Earlier this month, it was announced the CDC and Florida Department of Health are partnering to help control the rise in hepatitis A across the state.

After meeting earlier in the day, Wallace and Atwater hosted a presentation about their story and answered questions about hepatitis.

"Our goal is getting the word out as much as we possibly can about the fact that this is a disease that we need to discuss and we're not talking about it," Wallace. said.

He estimated the clinic sees 7 to 10 hepatitis C patients a day, and cures about 5 a week.