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TV Anchor Has HCV, Takes Peg/RBV
  TV anchor going public with hepatitis C dangers
October 21, 2006
As Stan Miller anchors the Channel 8 evening news, only his fellow workers realize he could be enduring migraines, blurred vision, nausea, fever and debilitating fatigue. Indeed, they have found him sitting on the hallway floor when his energy gave out.
Nowadays, Miller, 51, begins each morning crawling out of bed with a vow: "I'm putting one foot in front of the other. I will go to work today. I will go on the air and make people think there's nothing wrong with me."
He has hepatitis C, a stubborn virus that attacks the liver. But it's not the disease causing all of his symptoms - it's the cure.
Every Friday, Miller injects interferon into his abdomen, followed by another shot called Procrit to bolster his red blood cells. It's a new treatment from Roche Laboratories called PEGASYS. The interferon attacks the virus, but the internal battle zaps his energy, causes skin rashes (which Miller covers with makeup up for the cameras) and a host of other unwanted side effects.
"It's been like having the flu every day since July 7," Miller says. "Channel 8 cut my hours back so I can continue anchoring through it, but it has been tough to get out there and act like I'm fine. . . . There have been days when I've said, 'No way, I'm not going to do another injection.' "
'A silent killer'
About 2 percent of Californians are believed to have hepatitis C. In San Diego County, that translates to roughly 60,000 people. The symptoms - fatigue and malaise - seldom are pronounced. Four out of five people don't even know they have hepatitis C, estimates Miller's hepatologist, Dr. Tarek Hassanein of UC San Diego.
Miller learned he had the virus in 1981 during a routine physical exam when he was hosting TV's "PM Magazine" in Cleveland. The news came as a shock. He doesn't know how or when he contracted it. With no known cure, he simply took extra care of his health - eating wholesome foods, exercising and avoiding alcohol. But eventually the fatigue caught up with him.
"It is a silent killer," Miller says. "It can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, or a transplant if left untreated." That's why he's following the lead of Katie Couric, who had an on-camera colonoscopy to emphasize early detection of colon cancer.
"People from all walks of life have hep C - CEOs, news anchors, football players, kids," Miller says. "I am taking my story public to try to get people to get tested. Parents need to be more informed, because two of the major culprits these days for contracting the virus are body piercing and tattooing with nonsterile needles."
At first he was reluctant to go public. "I didn't want people knowing my private business," says the veteran newsman, who co-anchored KUSI morning news from 1994 to 2004. But Tuesday he'll break his silence to do an evening news segment urging San Diegans to get tested, complete with footage of his self-injections.
"People don't get tested, because they don't want to know. But in the case of hep C, what you don't know will kill you, and it will kill you in a way you don't want to die," he says.
Team support
He credits former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke for inspiring him to start and stay with the treatment. In May, Benirschke conquered his own hepatitis C, a more virulent type, after three rounds of the treatment over three years.
Miller keeps Benirschke's cell phone number close by and uses it. "You need to have a support group. For me it's been my wife (Sally), Rolf and a few close friends."
Miller is lucky that his strain of hepatitis C is less virulent than Benirschke's, and it has an 85 percent cure rate.
Already the feedback is positive. After four weeks of shots, a blood test showed no sign of the virus. But he must complete the full six months of treatment, then wait six months for another blood test to ensure he remains virus-free.
"I'm excited. Whether I'm cured or not cured, I know I gave it my best shot," says Miller, unconscious of his pun.
His final injection will be Dec. 22. If the news stays positive, he can actually have a beer to celebrate without worrying about the consequences.
Miller credits the experience with making him stronger mentally, spiritually and physically and instilling compassion for the health struggles of others.
"In all honesty," he says,"it's something I needed to go through to be a better person."
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