Why are you writing this piece?
Veterans Day is today. I want to take this opportunity to bring an important, deadly topic to the forefront — the need for my fellow veterans to get tested for hepatitis C now.
When were you diagnosed? How did you find out you had the virus?
In 1997, I had the world at my fingertips. I was moving up the corporate ladder, landing one promotion after another, and my four beautiful children were growing up before my eyes. I never could have expected the devastating news I received from my doctor as he reviewed the results of a blood test.
I was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV), a potentially life-threatening disease that I soon learned could lead to liver cancer, and perhaps even kill me.
How did you feel after you were diagnosed?
I was in total shock. I hadn’t even heard of hepatitis C and wondered how I had contracted the virus. Everything I read on the Internet about it was scary. Over time, the virus was going to kill me because there was no cure.
I racked my brain thinking about how this could have happened. Then, I realized it must have been in the 1970 while serving in the U.S. Navy. I believe I was infected from the Jet Injector guns they used for our vaccinations in boot camp. (The military banned the use of these guns in the mid 1990s.) This meant that the virus must have been attacking my body for at least 27 years before being diagnosed. I wasn’t ready to die yet.
What statistics jump out at you that you’d like to reference? Are you surprised by these statistics?
Through research, it was surprising to learn that veterans, like myself, and baby boomers (born from 1945 to 1965) are more likely to have hepatitis C than the general population. In fact, one in 30 baby boomers has the virus. Additionally, veterans are at three times greater risk of having the virus, with approximately 225,000 veterans infected – including nearly one in 10 Vietnam-era veterans.
To make matters worse, hepatitis C is a “silent” disease because it often doesn’t show noticeable symptoms for years or, in my case, decades. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting tested. The longer you wait to get tested and treated, the worse the virus may get.
What did you do upon learning that you had HCV? What other steps did you take to get better? How did you feel after failing treatment twice?
When I was diagnosed, the only treatment options available at the time were associated with terrible side effects and weren’t very effective. Despite this, I decided to try treatment in the hope of being cured. I was treated twice with two different regimens and experienced horrible side effects, including headaches, chills and hair loss. Sadly, neither treatment cured me.
How were you cured?
Fortunately, in the fall of 2014, my doctor told me about a newly available treatment that would offer a better chance of a cure, so I decided to give it a try. I took a pill once a day for 24 weeks and once completed, there was no trace of hepatitis C in my blood. After living with the virus for nearly four decades, I was officially cured!
How do you feel now that you are cured of HCV?
Since being cured, I feel better than ever. This journey has truly changed my perspective on life. My mission now is to educate others about hepatitis C – with the hope that my experience can provide courage and strength to those who are affected by this potentially deadly disease – and motivate them to get tested and seek treatment. I also share my hepatitis C story with other veterans throughout the country and speak at local venues where my band, The Rag Tag Worship Team, performs.
What tips do you have for someone living with HCV?
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced it is covering hepatitis C treatment for all veterans, so now is the time to ask your doctor about a hepatitis C test. A simple blood test saved my life, and it could save yours too.
Mike Carter is a U.S. Navy veteran, husband and father of four living in Delaware.