Originally created 09/21/03

Tired pair persist in long walk



Turning home by Christmas will still mean almost another year of walking. But Deborah Simone and Paul Hagan don't mind. Walking across the continental United States to raise awareness about hepatitis C already has been their mission for more than a year.

Calling it "The Journey of Hope," the pair set out from Augusta on Sept. 11, 2002, to raise awareness about the disease, which Mr. Hagan contracted from a blood transfusion more than 20 years ago. With Dr. Simone walking and Mr. Hagan following in a recreational vehicle, they have passed through 20 states and are now in Montana, heading toward Wyoming and Yellowstone Park.

The 4,100 miles is beginning to take its toll, Dr. Simone said.

"Right now, I've really kind of hit a wall," said Dr. Simone, who takes an occasional day off but will cover 20 to 25 miles other days. "It's really kind of tough walking lately, getting up some hills."

The plan is to pass through Idaho and eventually land in California at Christmas, when they will turn around and start walking back toward Augusta, picking up the states they missed along the way.

"I think I'm going to get my second wind," Dr. Simone said. "Once we get to the West Coast, it will impact me how far it's been."

The goal is to end the two- year, 10,000-mile trip in Augusta by next Sept. 11, Mr. Hagan said. They're enjoying the sites along the way, seeing the country at walking speed.

"Arkansas has been one of the prettiest states we've been through," Mr. Hagan said. "And this is beautiful country. We've seen some wild turkey and elk."

Nearly 3 million people are infected with hepatitis C, which can attack and destroy the liver. Many people have stopped the pair and shared personal stories about the disease, and others honk and wave when they see the RV and its banner.

"They get you up the hill," Dr. Simone said.

HEPATITIS C'S TOLL

Hepatitis C has infected about 3.9 million people, and about 2.7 million suffer from a chronic infection from the virus, which attacks the liver and is the No. 1 cause of liver transplants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.