“She turned bright yellow,” he said. “It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.”
Gerald “Jerry” Kagg first learned about Hepatitis C when his then-girlfriend was diagnosed. Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that causes the liver to swell and prevents it from working well. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, dark urine, nausea and loss of appetite, and as Jerry had witnessed, yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes.
Treatment was sought from Kamrin Macki, NP with Altru’s Gastroenterology. During treatment, Jerry’s relationship ended. A friend suggested Jerry get tested for Hepatitis C. “He said, ‘Do you realize what she had? You could have it too.’ I felt fine, though. I told my friend that if I turned yellow, I’d go in.”
Working in construction, Jerry often flew to various job sites. In one in-flight magazine, Jerry saw an ad that showed a person with bruises and the words: “You might have this and you don’t know it.” Further review of the ad showed it was promoting Hepatitis C screenings.
“It kind of dawned on me,” said Jerry. “Maybe I should go in and get tested.” He did so upon his return to Grand Forks. Five days later, he received a letter stating he tested positive for Hepatitis C. Immediate treatment was recommended.
“Five days after I got the letter, I was headed to a construction site in San Francisco,” he recalls. “I was feeling great and wasn’t showing any symptoms. I told myself I’d take care of it when I got back.”
Time passes and Jerry starts having pain in his feet. He visits with a provider and in reviewing his medical history, it’s determined this joint pain could be related to Jerry’s Hepatitis C diagnosis. Jerry is sent to Altru where he meets with Kamrin.
“We sat down and she explained where things were at,” Jerry said. “She asked why when I had received the letter a few years ago I hadn’t come in for treatment. I guess I figured since I didn’t have symptoms, I didn’t need to be treated. I was wrong.”
Kamrin evaluated Jerry’s condition and established a care plan for him. “She wrote letter after letter for me, working with the pharmaceutical companies to get me the medications I needed,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Hepatitis C is treatable with well-tolerated antiviral therapies,” explains Kamrin. “Current regimens offer 95-99 percent success/cure rates. About 25 percent of people with acute HCV exposure fully recover from it, while the remaining 75 percent develop long-term or chronic HCV.”
While Jerry’s Hepatitis C has been treated, the damage it caused to his liver will be life-long. “It’s not like a tumor, where part of it can be removed. It’s all over my liver,” he said.
“Hepatitis C is scary,” he continued. “The scariest part is that you might have it and not know it. It’s important that everyone at risk gets screened. And if you do test positive, listen to the providers and start treatment immediately. They know what they’re talking about.”