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Issue Number 70            April 19, 1999

UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases

Story #15:


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In May 1998, IAC EXPRESS received an e-mail from a first-year Asian American medical student in which she shares the details of her mother's sudden death from hepatitis B. The tragedy has motivated this student to educate herself and her family and other Asian Americans about the risks of this vaccine-preventable disease.

The student's e-mail, printed with her permission, is as follows:

I recently suffered an immense loss. In the middle of January of this year, my mother experienced a sudden onset of peripheral edema and ascites. She tested negative for hepatitis B, but the doctors said that she had either liver cancer or severe cirrhosis. In the middle of February, a liver biopsy definitively diagnosed  my mother as having hepatocellular carcinoma. This time, her hepatitis B serology came back positive, but her virus levels were low and nonreplicative. By the beginning of April, to the dismay of my family and all those who knew her, my mother fell into hepatorenal syndrome. She died while I was holding her days afterward, only two months after the diagnosis and one month after her intended early retirement.

Being a medical student, I could not help but feel helpless as I watched my mother slip away. What disturbed me even more was how unknowledgeable my cousins and I, all of whom are most likely infected with the same virus, were on the topic. I am writing to you today because I would like to stop feeling helpless. I would like to help educate my cousins, and other Asian Americans like us, of the risk that we face. Therefore, I would greatly appreciate it if you could inform me of the services that you provide, of the resources that you offer, and of the projects you plan. Please let me know how I can best join your effort, and how I can become actively involved with your organization. Thank you.

A First-Year Medical Student

Editors' Note: The Coalition sent this student a packet of our hepatitis B educational materials and referred her to other national organizations that are involved in hepatitis B activities in Asian Pacific Islander American communities. The Coalition's hepatitis B educational materials for providers and patients (some available in 16 languages) can be downloaded from our website at

About IZ Express

IZ Express is supported in part by Grant No. 1NH23IP922654 from CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Its contents are solely the responsibility of and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC.

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Editorial Information

  • Editor-in-Chief
    Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
  • Managing Editor
    John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD
  • Associate Editor
    Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH
  • Writer/Publication Coordinator
    Taryn Chapman, MS
    Courtnay Londo, MA
  • Style and Copy Editor
    Marian Deegan, JD
  • Web Edition Managers
    Arkady Shakhnovich
    Jermaine Royes
  • Contributing Writer
    Laurel H. Wood, MPA
  • Technical Reviewer
    Kayla Ohlde

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