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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Feature Story: "Veteran Fighter Takes on Hepatitis B"

In February 2007, medical specialists told Bok Pon, commander of the American Legion Cathay Post #384, that he wouldn’t be alive today. With an estimated six months to live because of hepatitis B-induced liver cancer, Pon was determined to live life fully.

As a veteran of the Army’s highly decorated 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War, beating the odds of survival is nothing new for Pon. At 65 years young, he attributes his longevity to a positive attitude, exercise and solid health insurance.

“When I first found out that I had hepatitis B, I was shocked,” Pon said. “It was a very emotional and upsetting experience for me and my family.”

After becoming familiar with the disparate statistics of hepatitis B, he turned his unfortunate experience into a positive awareness opportunity for the Asian American community. In addition to galvanizing efforts to establish a Chinese American veterans museum, as well as working on the issues of affordable housing and youth education at Cathay Post, Pon is also supporting the San Francisco Hep B Free Campaign.

He emphasizes that hepatitis B does not only affect health but also finances. “Because of the high cost of medicine,” Pon explains, “hepatitis B can completely destroy the financial structure of a family.”

Since being diagnosed with hepatitis B, Pon has undergone approximately $500,000 worth of medical treatments. “It’s hard for many members in our community, when they have to choose between their children’s education and their parent’s survival. It’s tough.”

Pon underwent chemotherapy earlier this year and said that it wasn’t effective. He then tried painful radiation therapy, where doctors used high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells in the affected areas. Pon compared this intense treatment to microwaving the inside of his body but added jokingly, “I told my doctors medium-well and not well-done.”

Pon is currently discussing with doctors the possibility of a liver transplant, but the odds are against him. “Liver transplants are very competitive,” Pon said. Approximately 98,137 people are on the waiting list, and there are only 10,850 available donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. “If I meet the criteria and receive the government’s approval, I’ll hopefully be eligible.”

If you wish to contact Commander Bok Pon or support his efforts with donations, contact: American Legion Cathay Post #384, 1524 Carl St., San Francisco, CA 94133 or (415) 386-3544.

This article will be featured in Sing Tao Daily, World Journal and AsianWeek.com during the month of May as part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
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