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Hepatitis C: A Healthy Ending

An Interview with Theresa, the 'Dragon Slayer'

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Updated March 23, 2012

Hepatitis C: A Healthy Ending

Theresa healthy, happy and hepatitis C free.

Photo courtesy of Theresa
Theresa has some great news to share. Her news is not only exciting, it's also probably encouraging to the many people dealing with hepatitis C. I was able to interview Theresa through email and found her story to be an inspiration. I love how, as a stained glass artist, she made a piece just for herself to celebrate her good news. What is this news? I think you should hear it from her.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Theresa. I am 56, healthy and happy, and hepatitis C free! I got clean and sober in 1993. I had been donating blood since the Vietnam era. I can count on one hand the number of times I used a needle during drug use. The person I 'used' with was diagnosed with hepatitis C and cirrhosis in 2002. He was dying in 2007 and luckily received a new liver! Without treatment, today he is free of the hepatitis C virus also. I don't understand it, but I think it must be the new liver.

How did you find out you were hepatitis C positive?

It was in May 1996, after a blood donation. I received a letter from the American Red Cross stating,
"since May 1990, Red Cross has tested all blood for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV). You tested positive for antibodies. (If your ALT level is equal or higher to a certain value, your blood can not be given to another person.) This usually means either a past or present infection. Therefore, we are required to destroy the unit you donated and inform you that you must not donate blood again."

I was upset because donating blood was one of the few ways I contributed to society. I had never heard of hepatitis C so I asked my doctor about it. He said that the letter means I had the infection at one time and because of the antibodies, I had successfully fought it off. Not to worry. I did have a blood workup and it showed only a slight elevation in one of four liver enzyme levels. He recommended a "gastro" doctor. In 1998, the gastro doctor suggested a biopsy. I was completely asymptomatic, perhaps because I was clean and sober, so I declined the biopsy. I was not worried but I kept this to myself because at the time there was no distinction between hepatitis C and HIV. Only family and best friends knew.

So were your friend and family very supportive? Did you have outside support during this?

Yes, they live out of state. My sisters were always on the phone checking on me. Also, my support came in the form of a nurse coordinator named Karen. She was always happy to see me. Her door was always open and she was just a phone call away. I didn't try to find support in my community. They are of a different generation. I have a daughter, Sarah, that should be nominated for sainthood. She was a great deal of comfort and strength. She is my #1 fan and I am hers! Sarah is my heart. You WILL find out who your friends are during treatment.

Did you ever have a biopsy?

Yes. In November 2002, nine years after I found out I had hepatitis, I did have a painless biopsy and ultrasound that showed I had chronic active hepatitis with fibrosis (Grade 1 inflammation, Stage 2 fibrosis) and no established cirrhosis. I was genotype 2b.

That's a lot of information you had to absorb. What did you think of it?

Now I knew where I stood. Now I knew how I would die. I didn't dare have a relationship because I didn't want to spread it. Life was good. I thought I could live a good life with this. Since the beginning of this journey, I was attending college earning degrees in office administration and computer science. I'm also a stained glass artist. School and "the glass" kept my mind off this thing that was destroying my liver. I remember thinking at one point, "Wow, I haven't taken a day off in about 2 1/2 years!" I rarely thought about hep C.

I know you had a successful experience with treatment. What led you to this decision?

It was 2005, and I was so tired and I was wondering what was the cause. What it hepatitis C? Age? Summer heat? Whatever it was, I didn't like it. I noticed there is so much more info out there in 2005 than before. Mostly, there was affirmative information about treatment. I decided to go for it. I wanted to feel better if I could.

I wondered where I needed to go? I took a chance and called my insurance company and told them the situation. They put me on hold. I was wondering if I was jeopardizing my insurance when they came back on the line with a name and number for someone not too far away.

I learned during the interview with my doctor that there was no sense in taking another biopsy because we could assume that the inflammation and fibrosis had advanced. I was shocked! I thought because I wasn't drinking that the disease had halted. Wrong! He told me that there was an 85% success rate for people with my statistics. At that time I was genotype 2b (probably grade 2 inflammation, stage 3 fibrosis), a non-smoker and working and healthy. I told him, "You don't have to talk me into this because I'm here to get rid of this soul-dragging, mind-messing dragon. I am the dragon slayer!" I started a 6-month treatment immediately keeping in mind that I was going to feel bad in order to feel better.

To learn how Theresa's treatment progressed and the parts of treatment that she thought were difficult, please continue with page two.

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