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Personal Stories: Dreams Can Come True

A Young Guatemalan Woman’s Story

My life completely changed on November 16 1997. I still remember that Sunday morning. I was going to have my breakfast when, suddenly, I fainted. Two weeks later, I had a rash over my whole body and my eyes and skin were yellow. I went to a doctor who ordered an ultrasound and blood tests. He recommended that I stay one week at the hospital.

My diagnosis: hepatitis A with a co-infection of hepatitis B. At the time I did not understand what my doctor said, but I remember him saying “You will recover from hepatitis A, but what concerns me is your hepatitis B because it does not have a cure. Many people die from liver cancer and cirrhosis as a consequence of hepatitis B.”

I was only 21 years old and can express in three words my feelings - I was shocked! I was also very frustrated because for the second time in 18 months, I had to interrupt my university studies in Chemical Engineering. Several doctors stopped by my hospital room to ask me questions about my personal life. They asked if I was a drug-addict and how many sex partners I had. The truth is, I was not a drug addict and I had never had sex. It is very important to mention this because it is wrongly assumed that you can only get hepatitis B through drugs and unprotected sex.

I spent many years crying, complaining, blaming and playing the role of victim, until I realized that there are just two solutions for situations like this: you sit and cry or, you enjoy the beauty of being alive and make every day count. I decided on the second choice.

In Guatemala it is not possible to get the HBV DNA and other important blood tests for this chronic disease. Fortunately, I have been very lucky. I have the best parents, family and friends who helped me travel to other countries to monitor my situation.

Last year I needed to get a liver biopsy and I promised that if the results were negative for cirrhosis, I would live to make two of my dreams come true: to study a specialization in hepatitis B and to create a foundation in my country. The day I can help to make sure that my country can provide free hepatitis B screenings, vaccines, and affordable treatments, I will feel that I did not pass through a couple of inconveniences in my life for nothing.

After receiving good news about my biopsy results, I happened to read the foundation’s B-Informed newsletter and was suddenly inspired to send an email to Dr. Block telling him about my dreams. Honestly, I never imagined that he was going to answer my email! I still remember how happy I felt when he answered my email almost immediately.

My dreams are coming true with the support and motivation of Dr. Block and his wife Joan, co-founders of the Hepatitis B Foundation. For years this foundation has been not only a source of information about hepatitis B, but a place and group of people who really care about those living with chronic hepatitis B. This makes me feel that I am not alone. Thank you!

Finally, I am healthy enough to continue my normal life. I have been working as a science teacher for five years and just completed my Bachelor’s degree this past November. I think that now is the moment to start my voyage to the world of hepatitis B research.

Editor’s note: The HBF is pleased to sponsor this young woman for a two-week internship this summer so she can learn more about our hepatitis B research opportunities and outreach programs.

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