Suzanne Schultz kneels on the living room carpet of the Prior Lake home built by her husband, Brad, and plays the games of happy childhood with her two sons.
Seven-year-old Connor guides his lively adopted 3-year-old brother, Alexander.
It is that care-free time of life for Alex, when even the demands of school are still years in the future. What is not in the future is the illness hiding inside the tyke.
The boy Brad Schultz describes as a "wonderful child" has a virus that kills 10,000 to 12,000 Americans a year. The virus is Hepatitis C, "Hep C" for short.
Now, a former Rock and Roll headliner is determined to help the 25,000 known Minnesota carriers of the liver disorder and the estimated 75,000 undiagnosed carriers.
Fergie Fredriksen, who has made his home in the Twin Cities for 14 years, is best known as the former lead singer of the band "Toto." This year, Fredriksen has revealed his own battle with Hep C.
While "Toto" was making gold and platinum hits with the Grand Rapids, Michigan native's face on the album cover, the singer was covering up his own constant tiredness. "Well, I knew I had liver problems back in the early 80s," he says, adding,"It's such a slow growing disease as far as how it affects you. Man, I think I've had it like 35 years."
Frederiksen says he was careful to keep his toothbrush and shaving gear away from other members of his family, including two now teenaged sons who live with their mother in the Twin Cities. But he never confided the seriousness of his illness. That, he admits was wrong, "It's a mistake to hide it from your friends and family."
Frederiksen says the support of friends and family is crucial to survival and recovery, but he realizes Hepatitis, in any form, carries a social stigma, often born of ignorance. "Most people," he insists, "whether or not they know it, know somebody with Hepatitis C. It's something that's not talked about. The medical community is now embracing it, because it's such an epidemic and there's no vaccine for it."
Frederiksen intends to use his talents and friendships to begin a quest for a vaccine and a complete cure. His quest has taken the form of a concert and celebrity golf tournament taking place on September 25th and 26th.
He has set up the non-profit Fergie Frederiksen Foundation fighting Hepatitis C. Now he intends to endow the effort and raise awareness of the disease at the same time with a remarkable night of song featuring himself and eight friends from other Rock and Roll legend bands.
Those taking part in the concert include, "Ides of March" founder and vocalist Jim Peterik, "Santana's" singer Alex Ligertwood, "Loverboy's" Mike Reno and Spencer Davis of the "Spencer Davis Group." All will sing and play their hits in the intimate Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley.
Former broadcaster and event organizer Mike Woodley hopes the "Fergie's Rock 2005" will be the starting point of something that reaches far beyond Minnesota's borders. "We not only hope to make this annual, but we're hoping to maybe take this around the country, four or five cities. The American Liver Foundation has been supportive. We just might be able to turn this into a pretty big event that started right here in the Twin Cities."
As for the September 25 concert and silent auction in the multi-tiered setting in Golden Valley, Woodley promises a night to remember. "The Metropolitan's such a wonderful room. I remember when it was Ruperts and the fun that was there and a lot of that is gonna be recaptured. We're charging $250 for a dinner/VIP ticket. That means you have dinner. You see the program. You meet all the guys that are performing and you really become a part of the behind the scenes of what's going on and what will be a really unique show. We have 23 tables. When they're done at the VIP level, we're done. We also have tickets for general admission (without dinner) that are $160."
Frederiksen insists that money is not the only, nor even the primary motivation for the event. He says raising awareness of the illness and combating irrational fears and rumors is the main goal.
Hepatitis has several variations, each with its own threat level and means of transmission. The "A" variety might be called "restaurant hepatitis" since it is usually transmitted by contact with food contaminated by a careless or unknowing carrier of the virus. There is a vaccine for "A" and those who suffer a bout with the disease usually have immunity the rest of their lives.
Hepatitis "B" is most often passed by sexual contact with a carrier. There is also a vaccine for "B," but unlike "A," this form is a chronic disease.
There is no vaccine for "Hep C," which has only been given a name since the 1990s. Before that, it was simply called "non-A and non-B." It is spread by contact with contaminated blood. "It's rare to be spread by other mechanisms," says Dr. Coleman Smith of Plymouth's Minnesota Gastroenterology Clinic. "It can be spread by sexual contact, but that's fairly uncommon. It can be spread from a mother to a child, but also that's very uncommon. For the most part, it's blood."
Even within the category of "Hep C," there are levels of seriousness called Geno-types.
It was Alex Schultz's bad luck to have contracted the virus from his Russian birth mother. The Schultz's adopted the infant from Russia in 2003. They didn't discover his hidden condition until Alex's first American medical checkup.
Brad admits they were stunned, "Initially, yes, not knowing much about the virus, the unknown."
They look at the vigorous boy chasing his older brother around their home and realize that Alex shows no symptoms at all. Brad smiles, "As of now, he just carries the enzyme in his blood, of the HepC virus."
Dr. Smith says that Alex's good health is likely to continue for many years and even if symptoms appear later, he can be treated and live a full life. A cure, however, is not guaranteed.
Dr. Smith says progress is being made with treatments. "I think we can cure Hepatitis C in some cases already. The problem is that this treatment does have side effects and the treatment is not effective in everybody. But, overall the recent treatments and the recent research studies which suggest that we can cure Hepatitis C in approximately half the people that we see."
Still, the treatments which involve injected Interferon and oral Riboviron last weeks or months and side effects can be severe. Treatments for children as young as Alex Schultz are rarely given because the drugs can interfere with growth.
Frederiksen is completing two months of the treatments this summer. "First shot that I took, I did have cramping and flu-like symptoms. Then I faired quite well through week five."
In that space of time, the singer also lost his mother, adding to the discomfort.
Aside from the fatigue that accompanies the treatments, there is a danger of increased irritability and depression. Fredericksen is open about his own side-effects. "I'm on an anti-depressant and it's working."
The work the 54-year-old performer is now absorbed in is preparing for his Foundation fund-raiser. "It's public awareness. I mean, of course, we want to make money. This is something we're doing in five months that takes usually a year and a half and my team is just really doing a great job, but the reality is we're concentrating on awareness."
As for Frederiksen's prognosis, Dr. Smith says, "It's good in the short term. What we don't know is what's gonna happen in the long term."
Fredricksen smiles at Smith and says, "I'm looking at 90 percent and plus, probably is the way I look at it and if I was a betting man, I'd bet on myself right now."
He'd bet on Little Alex, too.
When it comes to music, the boy only knows one song so far, "Happy Birthday." But a lot of music at the Metropolitan in a couple of weeks, may help insure many more Happy Birthdays for Alex and millions of others.
Minnesota Liver Foundation
(Copyright 2005 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)