When Jim McGough was diagnosed with hepatitis C, his wife Sheryl was dumbfounded.
“I had such a hard time wrapping my head around this. I thought that we had to go through all these stages of the disease before he would be gone,” she says.
Sheryl writes about her husband's struggle with the disease in the book Now Comes the Hard Part.
Her husband was diagnosed with hepatitis C when he received a letter from the Red Cross after donating blood. It only took a few years for his condition to deteriorate enough that it was time call hospice.
As it turned out, McGough had been living with hepatitis C since his Army days when he served in Vietnam. He contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.
Dr. Michael Voigt, who treats patients with the disease at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, says McGough’s story is common.
“There are many people in Iowa who have hepatitis C and are unaware of it who could be sitting on a time bomb,” Voigt explains.
Hepatitis C is quiescent until it starts to affect the liver. Voigt estimates there are around 100,000 people in Iowa who have the disease.
“It’s important to get tested if you were born between 1945-1965. According to the CDC, 70 percent of infected people are from the baby boomer generation, and up to 50 percent of people who have the disease have no idea. It is curable and treatable if you catch it early enough.”
Voight notes that, for a period of time, the blood supply in the U.S. was contaminated with the virus because medical professionals did not yet know how the virus spread or what it even was.
"There is a stigma attached to this disease because its associated with intravenous drug use, but many people have it for other reasons."
In this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Voigt and McGough about the disease.
Hear Talk of Iowa weekdays at 10:00 a.m. on Iowa Public Radio.