Adversity Brings Strength | Hep B Story of Jan Carl Park
On a Thursday afternoon, the sun set as a man with a firm handshake and bright eyes that bounce from blue to green walked in. Jan Carl Park, New York City Health Department Director for the HIV Planning Council, and a former ACT-UP activist who has dedicated his life’s work to achieving HIV comprehensive care and rights for the community, made piercing eye contact as he shared his personal experience with Hepatitis B.
“I became infected with Hepatitis B when I was in graduate school,” he said. “I thought well, you’re just tired because you’re stressed out about having to take these comprehensive exams. I just had this sense of really profound fatigue.”
It was the late 1970s when Park’s boyfriend at the time displayed deep concern about his jaundiced appearance. “He looked at me and said, ‘You know, your eyes are really yellow. You should really go to a doctor,’” said Park.
Shortly after that, Park’s doctors told him he tested positive for Hepatitis B and needed to recuperate at the Student Health Center of Harvard University. It was at this time when Park’s boyfriend read all of his study material to him out loud for hours upon hours each day for 10 days as Park lay sick and dehydrated in a hospital bed.
He passed all of his exams and, through the support of attentive medical staff and loved ones, Park started to feel better and the Hepatitis B eventually resolved itself.
“I probably contracted it through sexual activities,” he said. “I was just coming out, I’d been out for a little while, and I was fortunate to fall in love with somebody wonderful. My partner didn’t have Hepatitis B, but I do think it was transmitted in that way in my case.”
Park was glad that he sought care when he did and that he had access to it. He believes it is important for others to prioritize their health as well.
“It took some time of rest and hydration, and time of care to overcome Hepatitis B. I’m happy today that there’s a vaccine,” he said. “I would A) encourage everyone to be tested and B) be vaccinated, and I also think that we need to be as supportive of those types of efforts and campaigns as any public health official would, but you know, as people in the community in general. ”
Moving the side of his right hand across the top of the table to help him express his sentiments, Park stresses the need for more awareness and educational efforts in the community.
“I lost a friend who was Hepatitis B positive to liver cancer and he was in his early 40s at the time,” he said. “It’s not something you can ignore.”
“For a percentage of people who are infected with Hepatitis B, it does become chronic, it needs to be addressed and it’s a challenge for people who are positive to go through the stigma that it is associated with it, just like with HIV or other health conditions that are communicable.”
After taking a deep breath, Park reflects on how lucky he has been to have gotten the support he needed throughout his life that has helped him confront his biggest struggles, from his time with Hepatitis B to being a person living with HIV. He is a resilient individual in his drive to survive and his efforts to serve the community and empower others. However, he knows that many others are not as fortunate.
“I count myself fortunate in that I’ve been blessed with resources that have helped me get through that crisis in my life,” he said. “I know that there are other people in this city, in this country, and in the world that aren’t that fortunate and I’m aware of the fact that there are people who, if they come in contact with Hepatitis B or C, it would be devastating to them.”
As the person who manages the HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council of New York and oversees the planning for medical and support services for HIV throughout the city, Park is pleased to be able to share his story in the hopes that he will inspire others to survive, to be proactive with their health, and to share stories of their own.
“I’m happy to be a part of this. Stories are important and people are brave to step out and share their stories, particularly when it comes to a health crisis that they have experienced,” he said. “Adversity always brings strength.”
If you would like to contact Jan Carl Park, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.