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September 2007 Issue

Country singer Naomi Judd, a hepatitis C survivor, was the keynote speaker at the 2007 UC Liver Forum.
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Country Singer Naomi Judd Shares Her Story Living With Liver Disease

By Katie Pence
Published September 2007

Country singer Naomi Judd was the keynote speaker at the third annual UC Liver Forum held Aug. 17.

Judd, who headlined the Billboard country music charts with her daughter, Wynonna, was diagnosed in 1991 with hepatitis C, a potentially fatal liver disease.

Since then, Judd has turned from country music star to motivational speaker.

I sat down with Judd at the recent forum to hear firsthand what it’s like to live with liver disease and her hopes for a cure.

Pence: When did you find out you had contracted hepatitis C, and what were your initial feelings?

Judd: In line with the Kubler-Ross model, which describes in five stages the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy, I instantly fell into the first stage—denial. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. As a former nurse, I couldn’t believe I had hepatitis C. It halted my career as an entertainer. I was mortified to realize that I had an illness that would kill more people worldwide than the AIDS virus.

Pence: What sorts of therapies have you undergone?

Judd: I used one of the first interferon prototypes for hepatitis C, which helped to regulate my immune system. My husband flew to New Jersey to get it for me because I couldn’t take the chance of it spoiling in the mail. The first time I received it, it was delivered by a UPS truck. It came in a Styrofoam cooler, and all of the ice was melted. I panicked and thought to myself, “This is my life jacket—what if it doesn’t work now?” I couldn’t imagine what others like me were going through.

Pence: What inspired you to become a motivational speaker and tell the world about your illness?

Judd: I’ve always known that I am a spiritual being and becoming infected with hepatitis C gave me greater perspective. I feel that we must often go outside of ourselves to do something for the greater good. I talked to world experts about holistic health and found that having goals and purposes in life helped to heal me. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, and not only am I a survivor, but I am thriving.

Pence: How do you feel your celebrity status has impacted your message? Do you feel it has given you a greater chance to touch lives?

Judd: I feel it has definitely helped. I have had so many opportunities to help other stars with hepatitis C who are too ashamed to come forward. I always say, “My name is ‘Judd’ not ‘Judge.’” I encourage them to speak out about the illness because it affects so many people but is often kept secret. We need to get the word out.

Pence: What advice do you have for patients suffering from hepatitis C? What are your hopes in terms of medication and treatment for hepatitis C?

Judd: I think there needs to be acknowledgement of the emotional state of the patient, and I think antidepressants should be prescribed along with interferon medications, which often cause depression. More research, education and treatment need to accompany hepatitis C outreach. This illness is such a mutant in today’s society, and we need to aggressively take
it on.

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