Savage resident Edwin Tan spent his summer carrying a message across the triathlon finish line.
Tan, 29, lives with chronic hepatitis B. He said there isn’t a lot of public awareness about the virus, and there’s often a stigma associated with the diagnosis; he’s hoping to change that.
Earlier this month, just over a year since he started competing in triathlons, he completed the Wisconsin Ironman competition — that’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a marathon.
“I reached a level of fitness that I never thought was possible,” he said.
Now, with the help of the Hepatitis B Foundation, he’s sharing his story with others to help spread awareness, break down stigmas and raise money for a cure.
Tan contracted the virus from his mother at birth, but he wasn’t diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B until five years ago.
Hepatitis B is considered a silent infection because most people have no symptoms, according to the Hepatitis B Foundation. If left undiagnosed and unmanaged, a chronic infection can cause serious liver damage and liver cancer. There is no cure for hepatitis B, but effective treatments can manage the virus and reduce the risk of liver damage. Some people, including Tan, do not need treatment because the virus is dormant and not currently attacking the liver.
Tan’s fitness journey began a few years ago when he learned his liver had sustained damage from medication he was prescribed for a herniated disc. His doctor hold him he needed to lose weight, eat healthier and exercise.
“I ended up running a local triathlon and got hooked on it,” he said.
Next, Tan wanted to help raise awareness for Hepatitis B. Importantly, he wanted to tell others how his virus wasn’t holding him back.
“I think it was a way to prove to myself and show others that you can do what you want if you put your mind to it,” he said.
Jenny Kimbel, communications manager for the Hepatitis B Foundation, said the organization focuses on bringing awareness to communities at higher risk of the virus. They go into communities and offer testing and other resources, but she said their outreach was missing personal stories.
In 2017, the organization launched the #justB campaign, where video stories, translated into several different languages, show how people are living with chronic Hepatitis B.
“The goal is to raise awareness and put a human face to how people are affected,” Kimbel said.
Experts estimate around 300 million people worldwide, and 2 million people in the United States, live with chronic Hepatitis B.
In the U.S., it’s standard to vaccinate babies against the virus at birth and most Americans under 30 are vaccinated.
Certain parts of the world, mainly African and Asian countries, have higher incidents of hepatitis B than others, Kimbel said.
“There is a stigma around hepatitis B, even though most people with chronic hepatitis B got it as a young child,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any stigma — you can do anything you want to do and that’s something that Edwin really looked to prove this summer.”