Michael de Mesa, known for his role as Ramil "Manager" Taduran in FPJ's Ang Probinsyano, gets a second chance at life after his long battle with Hepatitis C.
“I went through hell for 18 years,” reveals the veteran actor.
There is a need to disseminate information regarding Hepatitis C especially since around one percent of the population (approximately one million Filipinos) is afflicted, and not many truly understand it.
According to a 2010 study on Global Burden of Disease by the Institute for Mental Health Metrics and Evaluation, viral hepatitis causes one million deaths each year in the Asia Pacific region.
Michael de Mesa has made it his “mission in life” to raise awareness about Hepatitis C and educate Filipinos.
He says, “Ang problema kasi, ang mga Pinoy, ‘Okay pa naman ako. Wala pa naman akong nararamdaman. I don’t need to have a check-up,’ but my suggestion is you should.
“You never know you have it until it’s too late. This is a virus na wala kang nararamdaman talaga.
“By the time you start feeling something, may cirrhosis ka na or may liver cancer ka na.
“It might be too late. It’s very, very important to have your blood tested particularly for the Hep B or Hep C virus.
“That’s the only time you’ll know you’re a carrier. And nothing to worry about because the medicines are available here in the Philippines.”
IDENTIFYING THE ILLNESS
What exactly is Hepatitis C?
Dr. Jade Jamias of the Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP) explains that Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver and has three kinds.
What we are probably more familiar with however is Hepatitis A.
This kind can be “transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person.”
Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is spread through “contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.”
This means you can get it through unprotected sex with someone who has Hepatitis B, or even sharing needles, razors, or (god forbid!) a toothbrush.
Hepatitis C is also “blood-borne.”
It is spread by exposure to contaminated blood either through "transfusion of HCV (Hepatitis C virus)-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, injection drug use, or even as they explained a manicure or pedicure where the sharp object used can have contaminated blood because it wasn’t sanitized properly from a previous service."
TRACING THE CAUSE
In Michael’s case, he suspects that it could have been from the ear piercing he had in 1997.
Although he has tattoos, he’s sure that the needles used were new since they were opened in front of him.
He’s also never had a blood transfusion.
He discloses, “Although earlier in my past life, I did drugs, but I never used needles moreso, shared it.
“The next suspect could have been manicure pedicure, that’s one possibility.
“So ang pinaka-suspect ko could have been in 1997, when I had my ear pierced in a mall in Texas using a staple gun.
“Minsan kasi there’s also that possibility na dumugo yung butas ng tenga mo, e.
“And then again, maaring ginamit sa iba, dumugo, natuyo, and then ginamit sa akin.”
TRIAL AND ERROR
Nowadays, Hepatitis C can be cured, but Michael wasn’t so lucky in the beginning.
When he found out in 1999 that he had the virus (after what was supposed to be a blood donation procedure), he didn’t do anything about it for two years.
He recalls, “I was in denial. Hindi ko talaga matanggap na meron akong Hepatitis C.”
It was only in 2001 when he decided to get treated when a doctor introduced him to Interferon.
This treatment as Michael described seemed to drain out every bit of energy from him.
“Ibang klase yun… Interferon just made me sicker. I would inject myself every other day hanggang nakahanap na ako ng routine.”
The said routine was an injection at 6 p.m. followed by a barrage of side effects come 12 midnight.
“The effects were very high fever, I would throw up, muscle pain that would last me for 12 hours.”
The actor explains that he would not be able to work the next day.
He had to do the injections thrice a week and after trying it out for three months, it eventually took a toll on him.
Besides, there was no guarantee that he was going to get better.
He decided to just manage the disease until his parents, actress Rosemarie Gil and actor Eddie Mesa, convinced him to try homeopathy.
He relates, “We would get the ingredients from the States kasi maraming hindi available dito sa Philippines.
“Ganun din, walang guarantee, but I still tried it for another three months hanggang sa [I realized], ‘masyado nang mahal ito, ah.’
“It was really, really getting so expensive na you’ll never know if maku-cure ka or not.
“I decided to [stop the treatment] since I’ve been managing it all those years.
“So I would have an ultrasound every six months. I would have a blood test every six months.
“Suwerte naman that my liver was okay, healthy pa naman, hindi pa natatamaan.
“It was this time that I had my viral count check. That time, yung machine that would read your viral count can only read up to 800,000.
“I could have had more. So ako sa utak ko my viral count is 800,000 plus.
Viral count as explained in a Medical News Today article is “amount of actual viral particles in the bloodstream. A high viral load is usually considered over 800,000 IU/L, whereas a low viral load is considered anything under 800,000 IU/L. Some doctors consider 400,000 IU/L to be the cut-off for a low viral load.”
There was hope in 2014 when his wife Julie found a lead to a cure online—a medication called Harvoni.
The catch? It was $1,000 (around PHP54,000) per pill.
He admits, “That time, I did not know what my genotype was. I did not know if I would fall under the 12-week treatment or the 24-week treatment.
“Imagine if 24 weeks 'tapos 1,000 dollars isa… I had to take it every day.
“Sabi ko, mamamatay na siguro ako sa kakatrabaho para magamot lang itong Hepatitis C ko.
“Again erase that, forget that, [I’ll] continue to manage it na lang, [and] try my best to live a healthy lifestyle.”
When he and Julie moved back to the Philippines, Michael had another test and they found out that his viral count had shot up to 36M from 11M.
“Again due to my wife’s persistence, God bless her heart talaga, she never stopped researching.
“Deep in her heart she knew that there was something more than Harvoni, there was something more out there.
“True enough, she found this gentleman online who got cured of the Hep C virus, so she got in touch with him.
“We communicated with him and we were talking about the generic version of Harvoni.
“He said, ‘Try it. Maybe you can find out what your genotype is,’ which I did.
“That’s when I found out that my genotype was 1A. We ordered the medicine.
“It was a lot cheaper. It was a 1,000 dollars for three months.
“I started treatment in November 2017. Each bottle contained 28 tablets which I took every day.
“After the first bottle, nagpa-blood test ulit ako, had my viral count checked again and, lo and behold, my viral count went down from 36M to 2000,” he exclaims.
This was a literal jaw-dropping moment for the seasoned actor.
He continued the medication and on the third month of his treatment, the results were undetected.
“So it was a wonderful Christmas gift for me, something that I shared with my family.
“It was Christmas of 2017 when I told them, I’m cured from Hepatitis C,” he happily declares.
Today, Michael is the spokesperson behind the BEATHepC campaign of global healthcare company Mylan.