Diagnosed With Hep C in 2009
In 2009, I applied for life insurance. The insurance application process required a blood test. I was in my late fifties, thought I was healthy and wasn’t the least bit concerned. However, the tests revealed that I had hepatitis C. I was shocked and didn’t believe the results.
My own doctor confirmed the results. I was shaken up and thought I would die from this disease. The whole experience was strange. There was no indication that I had hepatitis C. My doctor’s initial examination showed that I did not appear to have any liver damage from hep C at that time.
I had no idea how I got hep C. However, after a bit of reflecting, I was fairly certain I was infected in 1975 while stationed in Germany. I worked as a clinical laboratory specialist at a military hospital, and my duties included drawing blood from hospital patients. I accidentally stuck my finger with a needle while drawing blood from a patient known to have hepatitis.
I reported the incident to my superiors. I had blood tests to establish that I did not already have the disease myself. They gave me gamma globulin shots in my backside and continued to monitor me monthly for six months. The disease should have developed between six weeks to six months, but it never really did so we let that go. However, hepatitis C was not widely known in the 1970s. Called non-A, non-B hepatitis, experts didn’t know that hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection was a potentially serious disease. HCV can lie dormant for years, and some people could go their entire lives unaware that they carry the virus.
A month after confirming my diagnosis in 2009 (34 years after my exposure to HCV), my doctor prescribed peginterferon and ribavirin. I gave myself injections of peginterferon once a week and took ribavirin pills twice daily. The side effects were awful, and, to make matters worse, the treatment wasn’t working. The combination therapy was supposed to be for 12 to 18 months, but I was declared a nonresponder, and the medicine was stopped after six months.
In February 2015, my VA doctor told me about a new hep C treatment, Harvoni. It was considerably easier than my first treatment. I took a pill every day for 12 weeks. I felt tired, but otherwise, the side effects were mild. The VA paid for the treatment. Thank goodness, because I could not have afforded it.
I am now cured. I was so grateful for Harvoni that I wanted to thank the person who invented it in person. I visited Gilead Sciences in Foster City, California, and hoped to shake the hand of the inventor. I did not actually meet him, but I was able to meet with the head of Gilead’s public relations department and expressed my gratitude for being cured of hepatitis C. I was asked if I would be interested in being an advocate for awareness about the disease. I agreed to do whatever I could, and now I pass it on by raising hep C awareness in Minnesota.
Groundhog Day has new meaning for me. I started Harvoni on Groundhog Day in 2015. This past Groundhog Day, my son and I traveled to Germany to celebrate my new life of freedom from hepatitis C. And yes, I finally got a life insurance policy.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Hopeful, grateful and helpful.
What is your greatest achievement?
My marriage to my wife and subsequent formation of my family.
What is your greatest regret?
My greatest regret was that I did not pursue a career in education as a teacher or college professor.
What keeps you up at night?
Physically: dogs barking in my neighborhood. Mentally: I am concerned about the environment and the callous disregard that so many have for it.
If you could change one thing about living with viral hepatitis, what would it be?
I would like to have been able to live from day to day, focusing on positive attributes of my life and not harboring stress and worry about what the future held because of the cloud of uncertainty surrounding my condition when I had hep C.
What is the best advice you ever received?
On February 2, 2015, I was advised to try Harvoni. I did, and it changed my life.
What person in the viral hepatitis community do you most admire?
Certainly, the inventor or inventors of Harvoni and their associates at Gilead Sciences. I also admire individuals who bring awareness of hepatitis C to others.
What drives you to do what you do?
Compassion for being helpful to others.
What is your motto?
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” [attributed to John Wesley, cofounder of Methodism]
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
Probably a cat because supposedly they have nine lives. This is because I feel that I have gotten my life back after being cured of hepatitis C.