“Hi. My name is Michael de Mesa and I am a Hep C survivor. Yes!”
This is how the award-winning actor greeted guests at the launch of Hepatitis C awareness campaign, held by international pharmaceutical company Mylan and the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP).
Fans of “FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano” may be familiar with Michael as Ramil aka “Manager” in the long-running TV series, but unbeknownst to most of them, he has been suffering from another form of Hepatitis for the longest time.
“My journey began in 1999, when I found out that I had Hepatitis C. I was supposed to donate blood, and of course, my blood was screened. That was when I was told that I had the Hepatitis C virus. It was something I didn’t know about,” starts Michael with his story.
Michael is not alone in his lack of knowledge when it comes to Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A and B, are the other two forms of the virus which are more commonly known, not only in the Philippines but around the world.
Here’s a fact sheet on Hepatitis C, shared by Mylan and the HSP: “Hepatitis C is a disease that affects the liver and is caused by the Hep C virus. Hep C generally progresses slowly, over the course of 10 to 40 years. Although some people will experience symptoms, about 80 percent of people with acute Hep C do not have any symptoms.”
The common symptoms (in the absence of Cirrhosis) can be: fatigue, impaired cognitive functions, low grade fevers, abdominal or digestive pain/discomfort, appetite disturbances, depression, anxiety, plus migratory arthralgia or myalgia. The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads only through contaminated blood.
Michael shared intimate details of his life in trying to recall where he might have been infected. “I never had a blood transfusion. Although in my past life, I did drugs. But I never used needles, more so shared it… Another possibility could be tattoos. I have tattoos pero sigurado naman ako na ‘yung needles na ginamit sa akin were all brand new.”
Looking back, the actor remembers having his ears pierced in 1997 in a mall somewhere in Texas and suspects that it might have been during this incident that he was infected with the virus.
“For two years I was in denial. Hindi ko talaga matanggap na meron akong Hepatitis C. At wala akong ginawa about it,” he continues his tale.
It was only in 2001 when he decided to undergo treatment, upon the advice of a doctor who shared that the drug Interferon can help treat Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, the drug made Michael more sick.
“I would throw up, [experience] high fever, and there’s muscle pain, which would last for 12 hours. Para akong ginulpi!” tells the actor.
His work also started to suffer as he would excuse himself from taping to inject himself with the drug. He also had to leave work by 12 midnight, even if his scenes are not done yet. “Masama na ang pakiramdam ko,” he explains.
Michael finally gave up on Interferon after three months. His parents, performers Eddie Mesa and Rosemarie Gil, advised him to try homeopathy treatment instead. The ingredients for the treatment, however, all came from the United States and were too expensive.
He continued with his regular check up: ultrasound and blood test every six months. It was during this time that he found out that his viral count check was beyond 800,000 already.
Finally, in 2010, Michael and his wife Julie decided to migrate to the US. It was while they were there that Julie found out about Harvoni, the new drug known to cure Hepatitis C.
“It’s $1,000 a pill that time… and hindi ko alam if I would fall under the 12-week treatment or the 24-week treatment. Imagine kung 24 weeks, $1,000 ang isa that I had to take every day. Sabi ko mamamatay na siguro ako sa kakatrabaho para magamot ‘yung Hepatitis C ko,” says Michael to the crowd.
His wife Julie, however, never gave up. She resumed her research for new drugs upon their move back to the Philippines.
“God bless her heart talaga… True enough, she found this gentleman online who got cured of Hepatitis C virus. We got in touch with him,” reveals Michael.
The drug which cured the gentleman was a generic version of Harvoni. Michael and his wife ordered online and he started the treatment November of last year. Each bottle contained 28 tablets and he took one every day. After consuming two bottles worth of tablets, his viral count was declared “undetected.”
“It was a wonderful Christmas gift for me. It was Christmas of 2017 when I told them, ‘Guys, I’m cured of Hepatitis C!’”
“We broke down, we cried. We couldn’t believe it!” exclaims his wife Julie, when they were finally told that at last, Michael is cured of Hepatitis C.
Now the 58-year-old actor is out on a mission. “I’m here to educate Filipinos, to raise awareness… “[Now] You don’t have to go through what I went through. I went through hell for 18 years. Let’s all bet Hep C together!”
For more information, visit www.hsp.org.ph