TIM LICKTEIG: On the Way Back

By CATHY LICKTEIG For The Tribune Bismarck TribuneĀ  Saturday, April 16,2011

Tim Lickteig leaped into 20009 determined to not merely exist, but to live his life with gusto.

The Bismarck man’s exhilaration had nothing to do with a New Year’s resolution. He had just completed an arduous 48-week treatment plan to overcome hepatitis C.

At 51 he saw life in a new light. Tim joined a gym and began working with a personal trainer, determined to restore a semblance of physical well-being.

It took a few weeks for his appetite to come back. Patiently he rebuilt the strength that had been lacking for a year.

At first he was exhausted, but slowly found that he could spend more time on the treadmill, the elliptical machine and lifting weights.

Three months into his exercise program, the endorphins, those happy hormones that Tim remembered from running marathons in the 1990s, returned, making him almost giddy.

He talked with his trainer about the possibility of running the 2009 Bismarck Marathon in the fall. The trainer said she’d help him prepare for it, but first he had to be cleared by his doctor.

Tim went to see Dr. Kent Martin, who had guided him through his ordeal with hepatitis C. More blood work was ordered. A few days later, Tim was called to the doctor’s office for some grim news.

The hepatitis C was back, the viral load was as high as it was midway through the previous year’s treatment. This reversal had occurred in just four months.

Martin told Tim that he had two choices, both undesirable. He could do nothing and let the hepatitis destroy his liver to the point that he would need a transplant. However, there aren’t enough livers for all the people who require them, and sometimes transplants don’t work.

Martin presented another course of action – a

second 48-week course of treatment, so debilitating that it’s rarely prescribed. It consists of daily, not weekly, injections of Infergen, a synthetic version of interferon that is many times stronger. Neupogen and ribavirin would again be used.

Infergen, an experimental drug at that time, has since been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Tim’s case was extremely serious and I knew we had to be very aggressive in treating it,” Martin recalled.

“It will be very hard on Tim physically and emotionally, and on your family,” the doctor cautioned Tim and his wife, Marcy.

Marcy and the couple’s sons, Ben and Andy, wanted Tim to have every chance for a long and healthy life. They encouraged him to take the second year of treatment.

“Even though the doctor said there was only a 20 to 30 percent chance that this would work, I was not willing to give up. Our life together was worth fighting for,” Marcy said.

Tim found the idea of a return to treatment daunting. “That’s easy for all of you to say,” he said. “You don’t have to stick needles full of killer chemicals in your body every single day that make you sicker than you can possibly imagine.”

Tim’s voice was heavy with sadness as we discussed the possibility of his return to the torturous treatment regimen and its impact on his family.

I told Tim I’d be on the other end of the phone any time, day or night. I hoped that by providing an opportunity for him to vent, we’d be helping Marcy. Maybe she and Tim could have time together when they didn’t have to talk about Tim’s illness.

Their relationship is a true love story. Marcy’s patience, courage and optimism set the tone. We followed her lead.

“The boys and I were scared about what a second year of these awful drugs would do to Tim and whether they would kill the hepatitis C cells once and for all,” Marcy said. “But if we didn’t have faith in a good outcome, then how could we expect Tim to?”

Tim wanted his life back for himself and his family. He knew that Martin was right. This would be his only chance, so he agreed to 48 weeks of daily injections.

The second round of treatment began in February of 2009.

There were no good days, only bad days; the constant nausea, muscle aches, infections and depression were even more crushing than before.

At the end of the first six weeks, blood was drawn to see if any hepatitis C cells were still alive. If any living virus cells remained, treatment would be stopped because it wasn’t working. Nothing more could be done. Tim would have to live with a failing liver and hope for a transplant.

The tests showed his viral load was zero – no hepatitis C cells. That was the good news. The bad news: Tim would have to endure 42 more weeks of treatment to make sure the cells were permanently killed.

It was back to being sick every day. Soon it became too much for Tim to work a regular schedule. He’d been able to keep up with his job as the sales manager at Eide Ford in Bismarck during the first round of treatment.

This time, Tim was too sick most days to handle the physical demands of walking around a huge car lot. He also found it difficult to remain mentally alert. He said he knew it was hard for his fellow workers to be around him as his condition deteriorated.

“These drugs wreak havoc on your mind,” Tim said. “I lost the ability to think clearly. I was constantly fighting depression and often thought about quitting and just giving up.”

But Tim knew he couldn’t do that. In the spring of 2009, just before he graduated from college, Ben was accepted into the Marine Corps officer candidate school and went to boot camp in Quantico, Via.

Tim and Marcy were determined to be there in August when Ben graduated, even though they knew it would be extremely difficult for Tim to travel from Bismarck to Quantico.

Tim was adamant: “There’s no way I’m going to miss this.”

He didn’t.

Through the rest of the summer, fall and winter of 2009, Tim continued injecting himself daily with doses of Infergen, Neupogen and ribavirin. When his stomach and legs became too sore and red, Marcy would have to give Tim his injections in his arm and buttocks.

Tim said he became so weak he could barely lift himself off the couch.

Tim felt sick all the time, couldn’t sleep and knew his spirits were flagging.

“I don’t know if I can do this any longer,” he said.

The 48 weeks of torture ended on February 19, 2010, but he had to wait six months to hear if his second treatment ordeal had been successful.

Once again, Tim went to work, rebuilding his body and his life.

Editor’s note: Tim Lickteig of Bismarck will be among those at the starting line for this year’s Boston Marathon. Cathy Lickteig, who offers an inside view of Tim’s agonizing fight against hepatitis C, is his older sister. She resides in Camden, Maine. This story is the second in a three-part series.