Cured of Hep C

Angel Perez and Macayla Smith work out at the gym. They try to eat a low-carb diet. They have two cars, a nice apartment and enjoy spending their weekends with the kids.

Just another typical Yakima Valley family, right? Not even close.

“It’s so awesome getting up and not chasing the dragon,” says Angel.

The dragon was heroin.

“We were very active in the drug scene,” Angel says. “I was in gangs. I’ve been in prison twice. Macayla and I were on the streets; We were homeless. We used everything from heroin to methamphetamines to alcohol, but heroin was our drug of choice.”

That was almost three years ago, when the couple began their long journey to get off the streets and out of addiction.

“We’d hit rock bottom; I was done,” Angel says. “Ever since they took my little boy it kinda woke me up and opened my eyes. I told Macayla, ‘No, the streets ain’t nothing for us. Our son is our little angel, and we’re going to get him back.”

Angel and Macayla got themselves into out-patient treatment; they go to classes, see counselors. As Angel says, “Whatever it takes, we did it and we did it as a couple. We set some goals and . . .”

“We met them one by one,” says Macayla, finishing Angel’s sentence, holding his hand.

One of those goals included dealing with Hepatitis C. Angel long knew he had Hep C, but “I was kinda scared, and when you’re using you don’t care.”

His doctor referred him to Virginia Mason Memorial’s Liver Clinic, and now the couple can add being Hep C free to their list of accomplishments.

“In the beginning it was hard,” says Macayla of their transformation from homelessness and addiction to being the parents of three with playdates and jobs.

How did they do it? “Well, we fell in love, that’s for sure!” she says, laughing. “We’ve had each other’s backs ever since.”

“We go to Planet Fitness,” says Angel. “I go five days a week. It gets your body back. I feel so good to be getting my health back, you know what I mean? Now, instead of smoking, I get ready for the gym.

“We did an awesome thing. We showed them. We tell other people, you got this, you can do this, too. We got rid of our old friends, but whenever they see us they say ‘Good job!’ ”

“Cured of Hep C after 30 years”

Lisa Jaeger was 26 years old when she found out she was infected with Hepatitis C. She got it from her husband in the late 1980s.

Because there was no cure at the time, Lisa Jaeger lived with the deadly virus for the next 30 years. “I believe it was through drug activity. Billy had gotten in with some people he shouldn’t have,” she says.

Lisa, now 56, knew Billy had Hep C, “but, you know, that was back in the old-school days. Back then you didn’t worry about it. You didn’t know it was going come back and attack you later.”

Hep C is called “the silent killer” because people infected back then might only be showing symptoms now — most often cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis C was not even discovered until 1989. And that makes people born between 1945 and 1965, the baby boom generation, most susceptible to the disease. Before Hep C, sterilization standards were not what they are today, and donated blood wasn’t screened for the virus until 1992.

Although they had been long divorced, Lisa and Billy remained close — right up until he died of liver cancer about five years ago. “I sat with him and I watched him knowing he had cancer and he was dying,” says Lisa. “I sat with Billy until the day he died.

“Of course, I thought that was my path, too. Of course, I thought my liver would explode. I knew people who had Hepatitis C and they died. Nine years ago a friend of mine died. She said, ‘I so want to live, but my body’s shutting down on me.’

“I’ve seen a lot of people pass and I thought, wow, when is my time coming?”

But that was then. Lisa Jaeger today is cured — thanks to the Liver Clinic at Virginia Mason Memorial, Tanda Ferguson, the nurse practitioner who runs the clinic, and to the drug Harvoni. No longer does the Hep C virus course through her bloodstream.

“Now my whole body is coming together,” says Lisa, a smile of relief spreading across her face. She starts to cry, then stops. “I am blessed. When I went to see Tanda I had tried so many things that didn’t work, I didn’t think she could help me. But Tanda said, ‘No, we got it. I’m not giving up on you.

“When you have Hepatitis C you can’t give blood; you have pains in your stomach; it leads to cancer. Still, to this day I go in every six months to see Tanda because of all the medications I’ve taken over the years. We’re always watching for cancers. She’ll have me for the rest of my life.

“Being cured gives me strength to do things I couldn’t before. Now I can go out and help people, which makes me feel real good. There’s a battle with everything all your life. We all have to worry about what we end up with at the end.”

But for Lisa Jaeger, mother of two and grandmother of four, it will not be Hepatitis C.