Andi's Story

A single event changed Andi Thomas' life forever. A doctor that Andi visited for a procedure recommended that she get tested for "hepatitis something" she recalls. Weeks after the procedure and many voice messages later, Andi was finally able to speak with the specialist on her lunch break to learn her results.

In the cafeteria with dozens of her co-workers nearby, she huddled with the phone in the corner. It was one of those good news/bad news calls. The doctor told Andi: "The good news is your procedure results were fine. The bad news is that you have hepatitis C."

Andi asked him what this meant and whether she could infect her husband and children.
Her doctor's advice was simply.... "just don't bleed on your kids."

andithomasConfused and angry at this cavalier response, Andi researched medical websites and learned that "hepatitis something" was indeed, chronic hepatitis C, a serious viral infection that is the leading cause of liver disease in the U.S. She also discovered that her situation was not unique. Nearly every person she met who had hepatitis C had a similar story to tell.

Even after consulting a liver specialist, Andi was unable to get clear answers about what to expect. She explains, 'I couldn't believe that I was carrying around a potentially fatal virus for eighteen years and didn't feel sick. I got married, had children and built a successful life, all the while suffering from progressive liver disease."

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Hepatitis C is a stealth virus. It infects healthy people who have no idea that they are being attacked by something that's not usually pikcked up on routine blood work. Furthermore, the infection can linger undetected for two or more decades without producing noticeable symptoms, then suddenly cause a profound and sometimes life-threatening illness. Andi estimates she was first infected with the virus in the late 1970's either through intranasal drug use (snorting drugs) or when she was pricked with a needle as a medical assistant. She was first diagnosed in 1996.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is spread from contact with infected blood. The most common ways that happens is from receiving a blood transfusion before 1992 or contaminated clotting factor before 1987, kidney dialysis, and through sharing equipment to inject drugs.

HCV is rarely spread through sexual contact, although sex with multiple partners or a history of sexually transmitted infections can put people at risk. The virus can also enter the body through minor cuts or scrapes by razors, toothbrushes, needles (and inks) used for tattooing, body piercing tools, or on materials used to snort drugs.

Today, approximately four to five million Americans - or one in every fifty people - have been infected with HCV. Some four percent of "baby-boomers" are believed to carry HCV. Among certain groups the rate is much higher.

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While liver disease ranks among the top five leading causes of death in adults 45 to 64 years old, little has been done to alert the public. Since its discovery in 1989, it is estimated that only about 1/4 of the people infected have been diagnosed. Luckily, a simple blood test can determine if someone is infected and there is treatment available.

Andi took the treatment (twice) and was fortunate to be cured of her infection in 2004.

Andi's desire to help others when first diagnosed resulted in her founding Hep-C ALERT/ALERT Health in 1997 with a mission to raise awareness and concern of hepatitis C. Through the years, she emerged as a national advocate and spokesperson for the hepatitis C cause appearing on ABC News Nightline and Comcast Spotlight, and quoted/featured in publications including U.S. News and World Reports, Cosmopolitan, Newsweek, and the Washington Post.

Since 2001, Andi has dedicated her work on reaching low-income minority residents in her community: people who were least likely to be screened, educated and/or treated. It became clear to Andi that more than just "hep C" services were needed, so she expanded to include free counseling and testing for viral hepatitis, HIV, STDs, cholesterol, blood pressure, and free hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV vaccinations. At its peak, her organization conducted 5,000 preventive screening encounters per year.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end.
Economic and funding challenges forced ALERT Health to close its doors in June 2011.

Andi's journey hasn't ended. If fact, she launched a new organization in July 2011 to build upon her fifteen years of firsthand experiences and share lessons learned with others. Visit www.healthpro-solutions.org to find out how Andi can help you - today.

Andi Thomas: Brief CV

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