Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs, however Hep C is also, less commonly, passed between sex partners. For more than half of people who become infected with the Hep C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic Hepatitis C can often have no symptoms and don’t feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because treatments can cure most people with Hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.
Hepatitis C can be a devastating disease when left untreated and many still do not know that it can be cured. The barriers to treatment are the prohibitive associated costs, and many insurance companies or treatment programs put forth hurdles for a person with Hep C to access treatment even if covered by their insurance. To complicate matters further, people who get into Hep C treatment often drop out for several factors. While there is a cure for Hep C, few are being cured.
ASHwell Sexual Health + Wellness has been offering innovative solutions to get people into treatment, by launching their Hep C program in late 2021 to monumental effect. To date, ASHwell has enrolled and successfully guided more than 50 people through its program, and all the enrollees were connected with the Affordable Care Act insurance to do so. These were life saving measures for those that could access these services. This was accomplished by ASHwell’s Hep C team headed up by Moe Lujan and Sheira Gentle supported by various departments and a lighthearted ad campaign.
What really sets ASHwell apart from other Hep C programs is the lack of stigma and profound sense of trust between the patient and the providers. Moe and Sheira help the client overcome any fears in the process or problems they have encountered in other programs. They also helped build trust in the medical process. Many people with Hep C have found programs will not accept clients unless they are completely sober, regardless of how advanced their Hep C might be. As Moe puts it, “Our clinic staff, patient navigation team, and I take our time to help our clients understand how living with HCV can affect our liver functions and how Hep C can negatively impact our overall health and wellness. By empowering and encouraging self-efficacy, our clients overcome the stigma of addiction through self-care and self-love.”
There are often people who fall out of programs, so building trust with the client and ensuring they are taking their medication, following through on their lab work, refilling the prescriptions, and seeing it through to the end is a valuable process. As Moe states “what I help many clients with is forgiving themselves primarily for some of their personal decisions. It is about creating a personal bond to help relieve them of the emotional trauma around contraction. A lot of these patients have also been disregarded by other medical systems and have wanted to give up. After a process of building themselves up they can start to heal on a lot of levels.”
The process of finding patients is also not particularly easy. Most people are getting connected to the program thanks to Moe building relationships in the community. Additionally, ASHwell’s Marketing Manager, Jeremy Stilb, worked with CapMetro to develop a series of striking bus ads placed in or on 70 buses. The ads feature professional wrestlers sailing through the air and “knocking out” the Hep C virus.
Both Moe and Shiera have received messages with effusive praise from patients that have had their lives transformed from not only treating their Hepatitis but from being able to care for their health. Sheira reflects on the outcome, “The biggest success is having clients who were at first distrusting of the program, followed through with their treatment, and now are cured of Hep C. It is such a wonderful feeling when Moe and I receive a text or call from a client expressing joy and gratitude to ASHwell and its Hep C program.” She says multiple times the team has been told they are “angels without wings.” Moe concurs, “My most beautiful moments with our clients are when we work together to overcome these obstacles. To witness them learn about themselves and to trust themselves. The tears of joy when our clients, for the first time in their live, prioritize themselves and invest in their healing and self-love.”
The Hep C Team took a recent trip to San Antonio to visit with and present certificates of completion to a few clients who have finished their treatment cycle. Here’s what they have to say:
“I’ve just lived with this for so long that I thought I would always have Hep C. ASHwell made the process easy and possible. I never thought this could happen for me.”
“This was a good experience for me. Moe and Shiera explained everything in a way that was easy to understand and would even give me a ride if I needed help getting to an appointment. They were with me every step of the way.”
“I’ve lived with this since the 80’s. Now that this isn’t hanging over me I think about other possibilities in my life. Things I never thought about before. This experience has changed me but now I’m always hungry.”
“When you’re ready to leave “that life” behind, become willing, and take the right step forward this is an amazing opportunity. It’s easy. They did everything for me. I just had to be willing to put in the work.”
Cheers to ASHwell’s Hepatitis C program and the incredible work that they do!
For more information on this program or to make a referral please send an email to email@example.com or text/call 210-573-6453.