Billy Perry remembers sitting as a child with his father and his father’s friends in the front seat of their cars, parked outside their neighborhood liquor store. After they opened their bottles, they would give him the first sips. Now 61, Mr. Perry began drinking in earnest as a teenager, developing an addiction that would last much of his adult life. After spending most of his youth in and out of prison, with periods of homelessness, and always drinking, his hard life finally caught up with him. In November 2020, he was admitted to University of Chicago Medicine with a variety of unexplained symptoms: bleeding, abdominal bloating, swelling, and weight loss. His doctors diagnosed him with cirrhosis of the liver, and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C

Fortunately for Mr. Perry, Hepatitis C came with the prospect of a cure, if he could stop drinking.

“It’s like this, if you do your math,” said Mr. Perry. “I had been in the hospital for 9 or 10 days, and had nothing to drink then. Might as well take advantage of it and stop.”

Mr. Perry got sober, and began a three-month treatment regimen for his Hepatitis C. He received extra support from the pharmacist at UChicago Medicine, who would prepare his pills for him and helped him remember to take them.

This level of personal attention was key for Mr. Perry, as he explained, “I have never gone through my medical papers on my own. Trying to set up appointments, stuff like that, I’m used to somebody doing it for me… This is the only hospital I have ever known to sit down with you, literally. They don’t hand you papers and tell you what this medication is. They sit down with you, with more than one doctor, and tell you how important it is to take this medicine. And they make sure that you’re taking it. I went every Thursday just to fill my pill box [with pharmacist Colleen Blackshear].”

Today, Mr. Perry serves as a motivational speaker and helps other young men avoid his mistakes.

“[When I first started motivational speaking], a guy walked up to me after everything was said and done and said, ‘You’ve been to prison five times, you got a ninth-grade education, what can you tell me?’… I said, ‘Let me tell you something. I might not be able to tell you the right road to take, but I could tell you about that wrong one.’”

Mr. Perry is grateful for his help from his team, and optimistic about life after Hepatitis C. “I’m just trying to pass on experience for one thing and I’ll try my best. My main thing, first and foremost, is trying to get a lot better than what I am… It made me take initiative to start doing it myself, because if you don’t do it yourself, can’t nobody do nothing for you.”