Originally created 04/21/01

Doctor seeks sponsors for benefit walk



Deborah Simone's walk crisscrossing the country to raise awareness about hepatitis C is stumbling out of the gate.

Dr. Simone, whose husband, Paul Hagan, got the virus from a blood transfusion during back surgery, is once again appealing for sponsors to help underwrite her 8,000-mile trek this summer from Charleston, S.C., to San Francisco to Washington.

Their Journey of Hope Inc. is surviving on hope right now. But they are not giving up and will be setting up outside area stores to appeal directly to the public.

"We're just going to have to find a way," Dr. Simone said.

The walk would be the second for Dr. Simone, who in 1998 walked from Augusta to Washington to raise awareness and petition Congress to act.

Soon after, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., was one of those who pushed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide coverage for Mr. Hagan's expensive therapy of interferon and ribavirin, which can cost $2,000 a month.

Mr. Hagan also is working with Mr. Norwood's office to pursue a $250,000 grant to aid their effort and that application is still in process, said Norwood spokesman John Stone.

Though not as well-known as its more benign cousin A, hepatitis C afflicts nearly 4 million people in the United States, though the majority might not have symptoms and might not know of their illness. The virus attacks the liver and is the leading cause of chronic liver disease and the need for transplantation in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because the test for hepatitis C wasn't widely available until 1992, those who had a blood transfusion prior to that - such as Mr. Hagan - are at risk for it. Dr. Simone calls it "the silent epidemic of this millennium."

Some say it is too silent. Despite writing to several corporations and contacting companies, "I just haven't gotten the response I anticipated," Dr. Simone said.

Earlier this month, they had raised less than $1,000. While they have not set a fund-raising goal, it needs to be more than that, Dr. Simone said.

"It's been a difficult road," Dr. Simone said, even before the walk, tentatively scheduled to begin July 4. "I really need the CSRA behind me."

Expect to see Dr. Simone and Mr. Hagan in front of area stores in the next few weeks. And after that, they hope, down the road.

"We're going to have to find a way," Dr. Simone said.

Contributions

Deborah Simone and her husband, Paul Hagan, have formed a nonprofit organization called Journey of Hope Inc. to help raise research money and awareness about hepatitis C. Dr. Simone plans to begin walking July 4 from Charleston, S.C., to San Francisco, and from there to Washington. The couple is looking for corporate sponsors and individuals to help with the effort. Contributions may be sent to: Journey of Hope Inc., P.O. Box 1216, Evans, GA 30809-1216

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.