November 18, 2013

Terrie Lenhart-Jenson: My Personal HCV Story

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HCV bio Nov. 2013

Sharing my story about Hepatitis C and getting rid of the stigma attached to the illness has been my goal since I was diagnosed in April 2006 with Hepatitis C, genotype 4. I found out I was infected from my regular annual blood work that showed a high liver panel, so I was tested and found to be positive.

I believe I contracted the virus by a massive transfusion I received in 1963 after being hit by a car the day before my 2nd birthday. In MN where this occurred, there is a genotype 4 population. Ironically, the accident ruptured my liver and spleen, of which the latter was removed. Even though how I caught it really doesn't matter, I tell people that part so they are aware that this insidious virus has the capacity to stay dormant and hidden for a very long time.

I'm currently stage 1, no grade, and use herbal therapy to support my immune system which keeps my numbers under control.

I have one son and by the grace of God, he tested negative. It would have devastated me if he had tested positive. I have had to come to grips with the knowledge that due to stupid choices and general life events, I have passed this scourge on to others. Not knowing you carry a pathogen allows one to take risks or handle wounds very differently than those who know.

When I was diagnosed, I cried a lot. My son had just begun college and my husband and I had just begun building a house. I was afraid of missing seeing my son succeed with his education or being able to live in our new house. I was given a fabulous book about Herbs and Hepatitis C, that put me on the road to learning about alternative ways to fight the virus. I began taking Milk Thistle right away and gradually added more as I learned more.

I had lost a dear friend to HCV about six months before my diagnoses, so I was rightfully scared. Unfortunately, six months after learning I had this, I lost another friend. He was diagnosed just before I was, but his treatment took a huge toll and the damage was just too far gone. Seeing him jaundiced and bloated with ascites was overwhelming. I was so afraid of treatment by then that I decided then and there that I would not undergo the currently available treatment and would wait, if I could, for something better.

I really haven't seriously considered treatment since that decision. I have had some mild depression and my Dr. thinks I'm fine for now and can wait for something better. My blood work has remained in the normal range since right after my diagnoses. My viral load is just over a mill., so it's not been a big concern either. I was told if I chose to treat, it would be treated the same as 1a, but with lower odds. Egypt has had some good treating results since genotype 4 is their primary type, but the U.S. isn't using the same for us since we're on the rarer side.

I have worked as a substitute teacher for many years at the Jr high and high school level in our small town and have been very open about my status. I talk to the kids about choices they make and explain all the risk factors. I want to arm them. I will be talking to a class about HCV next week since they have been studying infectious diseases. I also work in our town's government, so I'm sort of high profile, but am very vocal about DE-stigmatizing this virus. I'm all about education and healthy choices. I'm so open about my status that I have a tattoo on my left wrist of the Caduceus with a dragon in place of one of the snakes and HCV + under it. It's my medical alert. It opens up dialog and leads to educational opportunities.

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