Terminal patient raises awareness of Hepatitis C

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Kasey Alsbury stands at the door of his home holding a rosary a friend gave him on Nov. 3, in Somers.

Kasey Alsbury spends his days trying to inject humor into his life.

With only a few weeks to live, he has been trying to make the most of it.

At the start of September, Alsbury, 59, thought he was relatively healthy. A hard worker with funny stories and a passion for the Second Amendment, he worked as a security guard on Big Mountain until a nasty fall sent him to the hospital.

While there, he was diagnosed with terminal Hepatitis C. Cirrhosis as a complication from the disease was eating away at his liver. With ample time in hospital beds in the last three years, he said he feels the medical community let him down.

“The doctor said it was too late to do anything for you,” Alsbury said. “I feel it was a lot of neglect from the medical community.”

Doctors gave Alsbury 90 days to live.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that attacks the liver and can be largely asymptomatic until later stages. It is spread by blood-to-blood contact.

In 2011, he took another fall from a ladder while holding a chain saw. It sent him to the hospital for two weeks to recover. 

He firmly believes that if the proper tests were run back then, his disease would have been caught early enough for a change to be made. But his job’s insurance had not yet kicked in and he said his fall wasn’t high priority for the doctors.

Ezra “Bubba” Gray, Alsbury’s longtime friend and boss when he was diagnosed, said he was shocked.

“Kasey was a smoker at the time and the doctor wanted to know why they would bother to spend time on him,” he said. “It was so sad, so disheartening that it’s a completely different set of circumstances for different people. It shows the disparity between people who have and people who have not.”

After his first accident, Alsbury had noticed some swelling in his feet. He thought it was due to a high salt intake, so he cut back and saw some relief. 

But then he became jaundiced after his second fall. Nobody had thought to run a Hepatitis C test until too late.  

Alsbury has no idea where he got he disease.

“I thought that I might have got it through the hospital,” he said. “I feel cheated. I just want there to be more awareness out there. I don’t want to see an innocent person taken like me.”

The most common ways to get Hepatitis C include intravenous drug use, poorly sterilized medical equipment and blood transfusions.

Ann Miller, a friend and part-time caretaker of Alsbury, said he has never had a blood transfusion, and — despite his rowdy past — has never shot up. He’s terrified of needles, she said.

“There are people out there who have this disease and can use the tests, but they aren’t getting them,” she said. “A friend of ours went in after hearing about Kasey and asked for one. The doctors asked her why, she didn’t need it.”

Alsbury, who was raised in California’s San Fernando Valley, was a roadie for Fleetwood Mac, Bob Welch and Mick Fleetwood, among others. He roomed (and shared a friendly kiss) with Stevie Nicks. His retelling of the story brings roars of laughter from Gray and Miller.

But when not cracking jokes, he admits the rapid progression of the disease and the short time he has left can be daunting.

“I’m a wreck, to tell the truth,” Alsbury said. “I still try to laugh. I can sit here and cry all day if I wanted to. But I don’t want to do that. I try to get some humor going or I’ll just fall apart.” 

He wants to be clear that he is not blasting doctors or the hospital. He just believes that the medical community can feel rushed or will not prioritize patient concerns and some people can fall through the cracks.

Now, as he spends his dwindling days in his small cabin near Somers, the swelling from his legs has moved to his gut. He loses his voice often, and purple spots speckle his jaundiced skin. Friends visit and eat donuts while spending time.

His handgun is still within arm’s length of his bed, and the “Don’t Tread on Me” theme of the room is apparent. But most of his days aren’t spent hard at work (Gray said Alsbury was one of the hardest workers he had ever met) but instead in bed between bouts of vomiting.

“If I could get out there and picket... There are a lot of things we are just laying down to and we shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m not going to give up until there is nothing more to give. I miss so much out there.”

A friendly, good-natured man, Alsbury came to Montana in 1990 and has been here ever since. He’s an expert furniture craftsman and an avid fisherman and hunter. But it’s hard to come to terms it’s almost over.

“When it’s my time, it’s my time,” he says, before a long tear-filled pause.

“Anyone want a doughnut?”

And the room fills with laughter once again.

 Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at rmurray@dailyinterlake.com.

Kasey Alsbury in his home in Somers on Nov. 3.

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