Ricardo Cantu

A new lease on life after receiving cure for hepatitis C

The Healthy South Texas Medication Assistance Program helps man get treatment for chronic disease
December 19, 2018

At the time of Ricardo Cantu’s diagnosis in the late 1990s, there wasn’t a cure for hepatitis C. Also, there were very few treatment options.

“My doctor said the best thing for me to do was to stop drinking and smoking,” Cantu said. He followed his doctor’s recommendation, but still “felt weak and tired” most of the time because of his condition.

Then, two years ago, Cantu, a widower and father of two, saw a commercial for a medication that could cure his condition. This spurred him into action.

“Being a single parent, I realized I needed to do something as quick as I could,” he said. “So, at seven o’clock the next morning, I was at the doctor’s office, asking for help.”

Expensive prescriptions

Cantu’s doctor approved him for the cure for hepatitis C. However, the medication cost nearly $100,000, and Cantu did not have insurance to cover it.

“When my doctor told me the cost my jaw dropped to the ground,” he said. “But then she referred me to Liza with Texas A&M.”

Liza Cardenas, a community health worker for the Texas A&M Healthy South Texas Medication Assistance Program, encounters cases similar to Cantu’s on a regular basis. “Some clients have to decide whether they eat or they get their medicines,” she said. “Many don’t have any means to get the medications they need. Most don’t have jobs or receive Social Security, which limits their income.”

Cardenas quickly got to work helping Cantu complete the complex paperwork to apply for assistance from the pharmaceutical company’s patient assistance program.

“The pharmaceutical companies are very cooperative,” Cardenas said. “They work very closely with us to try to approve people who need their medicine.”

Less than a week after sending off his application, the company replied.

“When I told Mr. Cantu the good news that he was going to be able to get the cure for hepatitis C, you could see the glow in his eyes from the joy he felt,” Cardenas said. “He was going to be able to take this medicine, be cured and be able to enjoy his children longer.”

How the Medication Assistance Program helps

The Medication Assistance Program assists those without health insurance or those whose insurance offers limited prescription coverage. Since it launched in 2015, the program has connected 3,849 people with more than $20 million worth of prescriptions.

The Medication Assistance Program’s staff works to lower clients’ prescription costs by helping them complete lengthy, and often complex, financial assistance applications from pharmaceutical companies. These companies offer a limited supply of free or low-cost medications through their own patient assistance programs. Program staff also connect clients with a number of other resources available through retail pharmacies and indigent programs.

“Liza was there for me 24/7,” Cantu said. “She was always calling, asking if I received my medicine, if I was taking it and if I was feeling any symptoms. She would take care to make sure I always had my refills.”

Cured and looking to the future

Since working with Healthy South Texas, Cantu has been cured of hepatitis C for two years. Now free from his condition, he can now focus on spending more quality time with his two teenage children.

“I know they have gone through enough already after losing their mom,” he said. “It’s more important than ever that I stick around and be there for them. That’s what they need.”

Cantu is grateful for the help he received from Cardenas and the Medication Assistance Program to get the cure for hepatitis C. He has even referred several friends and family members to the service.

“Texas A&M allowed me to have more time with my kids and a longer life,” Cantu said, “which I appreciate with all my heart.”

— Leslie Cockrell

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