Still Lucky Parents

How could it possibly happen? Liver Cancer Blood test was done as a precaution, and extra care was taken. Matt, our only child with hepatitis B, had been monitored since he was two and a half months old. Three generations in our family have gotten STD tests and vaccinations for the virus. Then, suddenly and without warning, our middle son Andrew was diagnosed with hepatitis B-related liver cancer. How?

We felt so lucky. Matt, born in Korea, joined our family in 1984. Soon after he came home, he was diagnosed as a hepatitis B carrier. At that time, hepatitis B was a fairly new phenomenon on the American pediatric scene, and there were many unknowns. When Matt started school, we found the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Liver Cancer Prevention Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center. He got a physical Liver Cancer Blood test, which was taken to monitor for liver involvement.

In 1985, our family grew again. Andrew, 7, and his sister Jenny, 6, arrived from Korea, and the same paediatrician tested for hepatitis B. We were happy to hear that their tests were negative and that Andrew and Jenny got vaccinated. We thought nothing more of it.

A son-in-law and two grandchildren joined our family and were all vaccinated. Matthew turned 20 and is still showing no hepatitis B side effects. All was well. We were so lucky.

Fall of 2002

Then, on September 2, 2002, Andrew woke complaining of abdominal pain. By then, I had six children and had been a mother for over 30 years. Stomachaches were routine. I suggested he get dressed and go to work. Maybe he would feel better, but by the time breakfast was over, Andrew was in such pain that his sister took him to the emergency room, and by the afternoon, he was admitted to the hospital. It was shocking when two doctors came to tell us Andrew was positive for hepatitis B.

A biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of stage IV hepatocellular carcinoma [liver cancer test] metastasized to the lungs. An earlier STD diagnosis could have meant surgery or a transplant. Still, chemotherapy was our only option, and even then, it only shrank the tumour in a small percentage of patients. Our best chance was a clinical trial and a miracle.

Neither was to be. By the time Andrew qualified for a trial, his liver function was so low. He got a rejection. Andrew Lee Wise died at home on December 11, 2002. He was only 24 years old.

But that is not the end of our story.

After Andrew’s Liver cancer test diagnosis, I called our former pediatric group to see the results of all the original hepatitis B tests. Their office said the STD lab Test records before 1992 were no longer available. One doctor gave me a handwritten copy of their file reports and said, “See! Their tests were negative. Matthew’s was positive.”

I read it for myself: “Hep B Surface Antibody Negative.” Just surface antibody negative means nothing! It is the combination of results from the surface antibody, core antibody, and surface antigen tests that determine a person’s hepatitis B status. I felt and still feel like screaming. How could a leading pediatric group in a university town get it right in 1984 and so wrong in 1985 and 2002?

One Year Later

After Andrew’s death, the devastation took over our family. We are weary and wary. We were painfully aware his life could have been prolonged and might have been saved had his paediatricians recognized he was a hepatitis B carrier. Our lessons were painful and must be passed on, but the experience is rare.

What advice do we have? Older adoptees and their families should re-test for STD for the virus. Ensure you understand the tests and results [and ask for copies]. Vaccinate the entire family. Stay informed about the latest research on hepatitis B. And enjoy life.

When our youngest daughter, Mary, was in high school, our youth minister asked, “What was the best gift you ever got?” Mary replied, “Andrew, Jenny and Matthew.” We are still very lucky parents.

Excerpted with permission from “One Family’s Story: Coping with Hepatitis B” by Helen Wise in

Hi Families Magazine (Jan/Feb 2004), published by Holt International Children’s Service at www.holtintl.org.

Editor’s Note: The Hepatitis B Foundation thanks the Wise family for graciously sharing their STD Panel Test story so that other families can learn from their tragedy: adoptive parents must be certain of their child’s hepatitis B status. Re-testing may be necessary. Be sure to request copies of all hepatitis B blood tests and confirm the results with your doctor. A Profile in Courage: Andrew Lee Wise, 1978- 2002

Andrew Lee Wise

Lee Seung-hoon was born in Seoul, Korea on March 4, 1978. Andrew, as he is now known, and his sister Jenny became part of the Wise family in Princeton, N.J., in December 1985. These excerpts from his journals, conversations, and e-mails chronicle his struggle with the news in late 2002 that he had tested positive for liver cancer. Andrew Lee Wise died on December 11, 2002, at 24.

September 22, 2002-

I wanted to send this letter, personally, to let every one of you know [my] biopsy confirmed liver cancer. If you are bewildered, shocked, upset, concerned, scared, or anything else, let me assure you that I am, too. However, I have realized that this is just a battle that I can win and will win with God, my family and my friends.

October 6-

Good news: I got accepted to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (RWJUH) for treatment.

October 25-

I went into RWJUH on October 7, two days earlier than expected [for] chemoembolization of the right lobe of my liver. I cannot remember anything since I was on a lot of drugs. Once I got home, I was in an extreme amount of pain. I had a very high temperature.

November 14-

I hope everyone can enjoy the few beautiful autumn days that have come around recently. However, I have some bad news: Three spots originally seen in the scans on my lungs have grown since the first treatment.

November 2-

This treatment [chemoembolization of the left liver lobe] was a bit rougher. There were a few more complications with me after my Liver cancer blood test, but I am “done” (supposedly) until after Thanksgiving. I am quite concerned about what the next treatment will be. People tell me not to think about these things and focus on the here and now, but it is hard. My typical day has two lows: the morning when I first wake up and my body feels like it has been through a thorough beating.

When everything is quiet and dark in the evening, I wander in my thoughts and self-pity. But, once I am up, have eaten my breakfast, and have taken my 9 or 10 pills, I begin to be progressively better as the day progresses. I am quite excited for Thanksgiving with my family. It will be the first time [most] of my siblings will have seen me post-treatment. I am a bit shocked to look at it now.

November 23

I must have hope, keep my faith, and believe God is always with me. I need to let myself feel the enormous embrace of love from everyone around me and even the country.

November 26

(First day of Hospice)—The goal is to live each day to its fullest potential. I’ll do this by sleeping, eating, exercising, and engaging in merry fellowship. I can do this with the will of God.

Thanksgiving 2002-

Last Sunday morning, I went to RWJUH after waking up with pains in my liver. The doctor informed my parents and me that the tumours in my liver and lungs were growing. This was a shock to us, but what was next was heart-shattering. My time frame was six months to live. I believe in miracles and continue to have faith. Six months will not be the definitive! I pray that you will continue to be positive and live life fully.

December 9-

Dearest Friends and Family, My health has turned sour as the Holiday season takes off. My nurse comes over more often; STD Urine tests, eating, talking, listening, reading, and writing are far more taxing than I ever imagined. I will try to remain as strong as possible this holiday season, as it signifies so much more to me than ever before my Liver cancer blood test. Thank you all for your love and support. I love you all so much! God bless you all!

December 10 (Christmas list)-

I want something very sentimental, such as a necklace with “mother” in English on one side and “mother” in Korean on the other, just to let [Mom] know she has and always will be my one and only mother. Death is not evil, just a different blessing that requires a more positive frame of mind and good reminiscence. The liver cancer blood test was highlighted with permission from “Through Death to Life”. It was written by John Aeby in Hi Families Magazine (May/June 2003) and published by Holt International Children’s Service at www.holtintl.org.

Editor’s Note: The Hepatitis B Foundation sincerely thanks Helen Wise and her family for sharing Andrew’s STD Home test story. The loss of such a beautiful, articulate, and generous young man is heartbreaking for all who knew him.