It’s a disease that kills more people a year than HIV. Yet, millions of people in the U.S. are living with it and don’t know. We’re talking about Hepatitis C, and baby boomers are 5 times more likely than any other group to have it.
Stella Armenta just celebrated her birthday.
“Yeah it’s going to be a good year,” Armenta says.
It’s a day she didn’t know if she’d be here to see this time last year.
“I started feeling tired and I started to swell a little bit around my belly,” Armenta remembers.
Armenta went to the ER trying to find out what was causing these symptoms. And wasn’t prepared for her diagnosis.
“I felt like I got hit in the head when they said you got Hepatitis C,” Armenta says. “I was like me, how in the world?”
Hepatitis C is a virus that can slowly damage the liver. It’s spread by blood to blood contact, like IV drug use and transfusions. And the Centers for Disease Control says 1 in 30 baby boomers has the virus and don’t even know it.
“I just thought well I wasn’t a drug user. I never was like you know dirty bathrooms and stuff where they say you can get stuff,” Armenta says. “I was always just regular mom and working person.”
But Armenta had a hysterectomy, and blood transfusion in the 80’s. Hep C wasn’t discovered until 1989, and donated blood wasn’t screened for the virus until 1992.
Dr. Heidi Moore helped Armenta with her medication regiment.
“She was very compliant with her Hepatitis C treatment,” Dr. Moore said.
And although it got rid of Armenta’s Hep C, she still had to get a liver transplant.
“There really aren’t symptoms until you get to end-stage liver disease,” Dr. Moore says.
Dr. Moore is part of a team at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center that developed a program to raise awareness and closely monitor people fighting Hep C and liver diseases. But ultimately their goal is for people to catch their Hep C earlier and avoid liver diseases altogether.
Hepatologist Dr. Clark Kulig says, “If we can intercept people with this virus and diagnose it early and treat it specially and people that are developing a scar in their liver and treat it early to prevent further scarring we can save a lot of healthcare dollars.”
More than a year after the surprise that changed her life, Armenta is renewed.
“I know I’m a whole new woman,” Armenta says.
She’s enjoying life, and encouraging others to take steps to do the same.
“You need to really check if you’re a part of the baby boomer population,” Armenta says.
Although testing for Hep C is done through a simple blood test, is not a part of routine blood work. So you’ll have to ask your doctor to perform the test.