Don Crocock: The Hepatitis C Dragon Slayer

HCV survivor takes advocacy to social media to help other patients and spread awareness.
Don Crocock was not ashamed of his hepatitis C diagnosis in September 2008. Shocked, yes. Shaken, yes. But not ashamed.

For many, a diagnosis of hepatitis C virus (HCV) comes with a sense of embarrassment due to the disease’s stigma of being “dirty.” But for Crocock, the news came with a sense of empowerment and a deep desire to share information about the virus with others in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

“At the time, I was working in two locations, one of which was a men’s recovery home,” Crocock recalled. “[HCV] was kind of around, but it wasn’t anything that I received any training on. My knowledge, frankly, was fairly limited.”

Crocock is not alone in his initial ignorance of what an HCV infection entails. For many patients awareness of HCV is limited, especially considering 70 to 80 percent of those infected do not show any symptoms of the virus. As a result, many people who have HCV are not even aware that they are infected.

For some of these individuals, the initial shock of diagnosis can render them unwilling to pursue treatment, as they feel hopeless and depressed following the news. For others, contracting the disease fuels their desire to learn more and defeat it.

“After I got diagnosed and picked myself up off the floor, I dove into it and researched a lot about it,” said Crocock.

After looking back into his past, Crocock realized his infection could be traced back to his past intravenous drug use.

“When I was diagnosed, I was about 15 and a half years removed from addiction and substance use,” he explained. “The last thing I expected was to have something from my past sneak up on me and hit me on the back of the head with a shovel.”

A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 64.7 percent of intravenous drug users who had been injecting for just one year or less are already infected with HCV. With staggering statistics such as these, it was easy for Crocock to ascertain the origin of his illness.

Coping with the reality of his diagnosis was not the only difficulty Crocock had coming to terms with HCV infection.

“I don’t know for sure, but I have the feeling that even though I clearly stated that I was drug and alcohol free for over 16 years by the time talk of treatment came up, I felt that there was a certain level of mistrust from the doctors due to my status as an injection drug user,” Crocock said.

Even in starting his initial treatment, Crocock felt the sting of stigmatization that accompanies many HCV-infected patients throughout their journey. His physician was of the old school doctrine of having patients be clean for six months prior to gaining treatment.

“I don’t believe we should pass moral judgment on those infected with the disease,” Crocock asserted. “We should treat the disease.”

Due to the fact that many patients do not know they are infected with the virus, the silent killer wreaked havoc on the body in the days prior to diagnosis. Early treatment is of vital importance for those infected.

But with approximately 90 percent of new HCV infections attributed to injection drug use and a continuing reluctance to treat these patients immediately, according to a study in Oxford Journals, treatments get delayed and the chances of survival are severely hindered.

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