In 1966, a little first-grade boy named Eric underwent repair of a heart defect that had been present since birth. The then state-of-the-art procedure was accompanied by a blood transfusion. In 1966, no one could have imagined that child's fate would be sealed by the introduction into his bloodstream what would come to be known as Hepatitis C.
Forward time to the early 1990's... The little boy had grown up, gotten married, had 3 children and risen through the ranks of the fire service to become the newly appointed Fire Chief of Flower Mound, a rapidly growing suburb of Dallas, Texas. Life couldn't be better for the young family until a routine physical exam revealed the presence of a newly discovered and incurable virus: Hepatits C. This healthy young man was told that the virus would gradually destroy his liver, causing cirrhosis, portal hypertension, and esophageal varicies... possibly even liver cancer. He was told he would need a liver transplant within 5 years. Young Chief Metzger, age 32, vowed to make his life count by serving others.
For the next 22 years, he raised his family, served God, and served and protected his community as their Fire Chief. He saw life and death. He lived in the gap decade after decade, protecting people he would never meet from things he could never unsee.
Meanwhile, he tried every new treatment that became available but none of them worked. He developed some of the complications associated with the virus, but managed them as best he could and continued to work even when he didnt feel well. Fatigue and discomfort became a way of life.
In 2014, Chief Metzger retired from the fire department after 3 decades of service. He and Janice moved to a pretty little parcel of land in the Piney Woods of East Texas, built a log home and settled in to enjoy their golden years. In only a few months a health disaster struck. A blood vessel ruptured in Eric's esophagus and he hemorrhaged. He had turned a critical corner in the progression of his disease.
Miraculously though, Eric recovered and was sent to the Baylor Transplant Clinic in Dallas for evaluation for a liver transplant. Candidacy for transplantation is based on how well the patient's liver is functioning. Despite having Hepatitis C for nearly 50 years, Eric's liver was doggedly working to filter and purify his blood. Though his son, Aaron, quickly stepped up and volunteered to be a live donor, a transplant was not necessary yet and remained a plan for the future. He was followed every 6 months by the excellent team at Baylor for the next 2 1/2 years and was always declared "too healthy" for a liver transplant.
In the spring of 2017, a promising new drug for Hepatitis C called Epclusa became available for his genotype, boasting a cure rate of 98%. Having failed at least 5 courses of treatment over the years, Eric didn't put a lot of promise in it but agreed to give Epclusa a try. On his 57th birthday, August 10, 2017, Eric heard the words he thought he would never hear: "The virus is undetectable. You are cured."
Strangely, though, over the past few weeks he had begun having abdominal pain and intermittent fevers. Accustomed to the vague gastrointestinal symptoms associated with Hepatitis C, he powered through them. A CT scan during a trip to the local emergency room for a particularly bad episode revealed a mass on his liver. He was immediately sent to his team at Baylor where imaging revealed not one but two large tumors with involvement of the two major blood vessels of the liver as well as the bile ducts. Eric had Primary Hepatocellular Carcinoma, liver cancer, that was inoperable and too advanced for liver transplantion. Eric had gone from being "too healthy" for a transplant to "too sick" for a transplant in the course of only a few short weeks.
He was admitted to the Baylpr University Medical Center hospital immediately. Every day, he grew sicker as the oncology and hepatology teams worked to stabilize him and prepare him for aggressive chemotherapy. His skin turned yellow from the jaundice and in just days, he lost 25 pounds. Chief Metzger, a faithful husband, loving father and humble public servant is a very sick man.
He is loved dearly by his wife of 37 years, Janice; his three children, Alison, Ryan, and Aaron; and three grandchildren London (7), Asher (5), and Holden (4) to whom he answers not to Chief but to "Pops". His life includes a sea of friends, family, and co-workers whose lives he has touched. Many tell stories of acts of kindness over the years... a comforting word at an accident scene... an escort to the hospital for a family member... a prayer spoken for a grieving family.... the grace of bearing witness. Chief Metzger's life has been one of service. Service to God, to his family, and to his fellow man. This world needs Eric Metzger. We are not ready to live without him.
If you would like to donate to Eric's recovery, please follow this link to do so on PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/HopeforChiefMetzger