San Francisco, California

Diagnosed with Hep C in 2000


The following is an excerpt from the Hep Fall 2016 cover story:


Shirley Barger—a retired computer expert and a dyed-in-the-wool San Franciscan since she moved to the Bay Area at the height of Flower Power in 1968—was cured of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in 2013.

Now 67 years old, she feels great. “I know people who’ve been cured who say they feel 21 again. I wouldn’t go that far,” she laughs. “But I feel better than I have in a long time. Clearing hep C really lifted me up emotionally.”

Yet putting HCV behind her doesn’t mean she has stopped advocating for others with the virus. She continues to cochair the San Francisco Hepatitis C Task Force, which she has done for the past three years. However, it does mean she now has the energy to enjoy things like local museum hopping. “I just went to the new SF MOMA [San Francisco Museum of Modern Art],” she says. “It’s quite a beautiful showcase for art.”

That’s just one way that life without hep C has helped Barger reconnect with a city she moved to as a teen from North Carolina after both her parents died. “My friends and I were fascinated with what was happening in San Francisco,” she says. “I came for the summer but ended up staying. There were lots of people on the street, and Haight-Ashbury was pretty wild, full of young people, concerts, antiwar rallies—and lots of drugs.”

Barger rented a cheap room, sold indie newspapers on the street and cleaned rooms at the YMCA to make money. Like many young people in the city at that time, she also dabbled in drugs, including experimenting with needles three times, which is how she thinks she got hep C.

In time, she landed a job processing medical claims, went to college and became one of the first people to code and administer computer systems in the 1970s, working for San Francisco City College until her retirement three years ago.

By the early 2000s, Barger was experiencing constant fatigue and joint pain. A doctor ran a battery of tests on her but didn’t even ask about HCV. Barger knew someone with the virus, so she said to the doctor, “Well, as long as you’re testing me for pernicious anemia, how about hep C, too? And the doctor said, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t have that,’ but I asked her to test me for it anyway.”

Sure enough, Barger had HCV. The assumption that she “wouldn’t have that” is all too common among doctors with regard to middle-age patients who don’t appear to be active drug users.

Click here to read the complete story.