Office of Institutional Advancement

Nurse's Fatigue Reveals Surprising Diagnosis

Fenkel

In 2014 Barbara Sommons, a nurse from Richboro, PA., saw her doctor for persistent fatigue that she couldn’t seem to shake. Blood tests revealed a diagnosis she would have never guessed, even with her clinical background. Barbara had Hepatitis C.

“It was terrifying,” Barbara said. “As a nurse, I knew the ramifications of Hepatitis C.”

Looking back through the years, there were periods of time when she didn’t feel well, but the symptoms never lasted. “That’s how Hepatitis C fools you,” she said.

Barbara’s sister-in-law works at Jefferson and told her to make an appointment with Dr. Jonathan Fenkel, Director of Jefferson’s Hepatitis C Center in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. By pouring over her medical records and talking with Barbara about her medical history, Dr. Fenkel traced the infection to a blood transfusion following a surgery in 1975. At the time, she was just 25 years old, and no one knew what Hepatitis C was.

By the time she met Dr. Fenkel, she had advanced fibrosis (liver scarring) created by the virus slowly damaging the liver while being undetected and untreated all those years.  Without treatment soon, she would be at risk of developing cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.

Dr. Fenkel recommended a new treatment, one that required only one pill a day for 12 weeks. She started the medication in December 2014.

“I was lucky that right before I was diagnosed, many new treatments became available,” Barbara said. “It was amazing, I had no side effects.”

Within two weeks, Dr. Fenkel and Barbara saw a huge response in her lab work and within four weeks her virus was undetectable in the blood. The treatment was working. By March of 2015, she had completed treatment and her virus remains undetectable, and therefore cured, to this day. 

 “I’ve been feeling so good,” she said. “But there was a lot of damage to my liver. And Hepatitis C is the number one cause of liver cancer.”

Barbara continues to see Dr. Fenkel for her care to keep a close eye on the health of her liver. He uses a non-invasive test in the office called a Fibroscan every six months to measure the stiffness of her liver, to see if it has started to repair itself after being cured of her virus.

The liver is the only organ in the human body that can regenerate. With a cure for Hepatitis C now available, doctors are hopeful that some damage from the disease may heal.

“I’m of the Baby Boomer generation, which is at greater risk for Hepatitis C” Barbara said. “I’m telling everyone to get tested.”

Dr. Fenkel agrees. “The majority of people living with Hepatitis C in the U.S. are baby boomers, so anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should be screened for it.  Hepatitis C is not just a disease of drug users. Anyone who had a blood transfusion prior to 1990 is also at risk, just like Barbara, and a simple blood test is all it takes to get screened for Hepatitis C.”

Dr. Fenkel continued, “There are so many effective and safe treatment options available now.  There has never been a better time to have Hepatitis C.  Get tested and get treated!  With proper screening, Hepatitis C is a disease that we can potentially eradicate in our lifetime.”  

Story by Gail Benner