battles hepatitis C, Workers’ Compensation
Face of hepatitis
Denver area firefighter Peter Mazula, 48, has made a living
extinguishing flames for 29 years. Now, he’s fanning fires of a
decade ago, he learned that he had contracted hepatitis C while helping
an accident victim in 1988. Denied Workers’ Compensation coverage, he
went to court and ultimately was denied again. So, he decided to take
his cause to another branch of government.
Mazula is on the verge of winning Workers’ Compensation coverage for
public safety workers contracting hepatitis C in the line of duty.
Subject to the signature of Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, SB-06 is set to
become Colorado law, due in part to Mazula’s impassioned testimony
before both the Colorado Senate and the House, and letters written to
every member of the House.
In a surprising move, the Republican-controlled Colorado House passed
the measure unanimously. It also breezed through the
Democratic-controlled Senate with a better than two to one margin. Upon
passage, it will join Workers’ Compensation hepatitis C laws in nine
other states. An additional nine states have similar legislation
SB-06 is better than other measures, Mazula said. "This law will be
better in two major areas. First, once it is documented that a public
safety worker has been exposed to the virus, medication can begin
immediately. In some other states, you have to wait until you actually
test positive for the disease. Second, there’s a two-year window to help
those who may already have been affected. As long as it is determined
conclusively that the worker was exposed on the job, Workers’
Compensation benefits will be in force," Mazula said.
But, that doesn’t help Mazula. Now awaiting a liver transplant to
relieve the disease that is ravaging his body, Mazula is understandably
bitter about the toll hepatitis C, and subsequent denial of Workers’
Compensation benefits, has taken on his family. His health insurance and
fire department contributions supplement money out of his own pocket to
cover his care. "Workers’ Compensation should have been there. That’s
what it’s supposed to cover," Mazula added.
"Pete’s efforts not only will provide a much-deserved safety net for
Colorado public safety workers, but will help build impetus in other
states for similar legislation," said Ann Jesse, executive director of
the Hep C Connection, a national hepatitis C support organization based
in Denver. Jesse, a hepatitis C survivor who has worked with Mazula to
help pass the legislation, added, "He’s an inspiration to those of us on
the front lines fighting this disease day in and day out."
Mazula’s nightmare began at a gruesome motorcycle accident in 1988.
"There was blood everywhere. I wore rubber gloves but it was evening,
and there was little light. I sliced my hand open on something, a piece
of steel or glass, I don’t know."
Four years later, he discovered he had hepatitis C. Denied coverage by
Workers’ Compensation for lack of proof, he went to court and won the
first round. Workers’ Compensation appealed and, ultimately, Mazula lost
his court fight.
"The only thing they said about why it was denied is that when I went to
the emergency room back in 1988, the nurse there told me the accident
victim had track marks on his arms—an obvious warning signal to be on
alert for hepatitis C. The appellate court threw out the case citing
this evidence as ‘hearsay.’ Essentially, I got denied on a
technicality," Mazula noted.
The good news for Mazula is a brighter outlook for other public safety
workers exposed to the disease and his ability to serve as an educator.
"If the accident had happened today, I would have gotten treatment
sooner. Immediate treatment would have helped. I probably wouldn’t need
a liver transplant. And if I had found back then the kind of support
provided by such organizations as the Hep C Connection, I could have
managed my condition – and its emotional impact on my family, co-workers
and friends – much more effectively."
Today’s improving treatments would be part of a healthier equation,
Mazula said he believes. "The sooner you get in, the better your
outcome," he added.
Mazula pointed out that he’s been able to teach people in the fire
department about hepatitis C, and, "My testimony before the Colorado
Legislature opened up some eyes as well."
For now, Mazula has been taken off firefighting calls. He’s a deputy
fire marshal, handling building inspections and code enforcement.
Unable to tolerate the side effects of full-blown antiviral treatments,
he takes about a quarter-dose of Interferon. It’s enough to stabilize
his condition, but ultimately he has no doubt that he will need a new
"I have cirrhosis, advanced liver fibrosis, but so far no signs of liver
cancer. I’m on the liver transplant list. My wife, daughter and I talk
about it. It’s hard for everybody, just waiting and knowing it’s going
And waiting is proving very tiring, literally. "I get fatigued really
easily as a result of both the disease and the medication. I’m just not
me most of the time. But the department’s been great, with guys giving
me their comp time and sick time to help out."
Having both won and lost battles in his hepatitis C fight, Peter Mazula
still faces the greatest battle of all—the one for his life.
Hepatitis C may affect up to 1 in every 50 Americans, according to
statistics provided by the National Institutes of Health. Half likely do
not even know they have the disease, which is killing 8,000 to 10,000
people annually in the US; and is the leading cause of liver disease and
liver transplants. For more information about Hepatitis C Education
Awareness Month or the Hep C Connection, contact: 1-800-522-HEPC (4372);
303-860-0800. For more information about hepatitis C, contact the
Hepatitis Help Line: 1-800-390-1202. Or, visit the Hep C Connection
online: www.hepc-connection.org, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hep C Connection
Ann Jesse, Executive Director
Regina Schuler, Assistant Director
Kathy Jensen, Director, Information and Community Outreach