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Here’s to Ann Jesse, firebrand entrepreneur and customer service champion

My longtime friend, Ann Jesse, just died. Ann didn’t just practice stellar customer service, she created it. When diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the nineties, she started a national Hep C support organization to provide the help and answers she hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. The Hep C Connection grew to one of the nation’s largest and most influential support organizations in this realm. Ann’s efforts helped people across the country manage, and ultimately recover, from this devastating disease. This series of posts is dedicated to Ann Jesse’s customer service efforts on behalf of so many.

Mark Lusky

I first met Ann Jesse in 1976. I had just joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and they sent me to New Orleans. I needed to rent a room for a couple months, and Ann’s house provided the perfect solution.

We became immediate friends. She was something special, an entrepreneur who created organizations to serve “customer” needs. Over the years, she started food banks in New Orleans and Denver. My vote for her signature achievement was founding the Hep C Connection in the nineties to support more than four million people nationwide with the disease. At the time, the disease was considered chronic and incurable, afflicting about three times more people than HIV.

After learning she had tested positive for Hepatitis C nearly a quarter-century after a blood transfusion in 1973, Ann set out to find therapies, answers and support—and found existing resources sorely lacking. So, she launched the Hep C Connection, which became a leading national support network providing those much-needed resources.

Her passion for providing customer service to Hep C sufferers was evidenced by testimony before the US House of Representatives in 1998 concerning a decided lack of it. She was informed by her internist in an impersonal voice mail that she had tested positive, more tests needed to be done, and to use a condom with her husband because of potential sexual transmission (later proved to be a rare occurrence).

In her comments to Congress, she pointed out, “This was by no means an optimum way to be informed that I was infected with a chronic, incurable liver disease.”

Partly due to Ann’s efforts through the Hep C Connection, great strides were made in treating and ultimately curing the disease. A May 2000 ColoradoBiz Magazine article that I co-authored notes that “researchers have made great strides in treating and even eradicating the disease. Jesse herself has been disease-free for two years. ‘Forty percent of the people are clearing the virus, with no sign of it in the system,’ she said. Jesse single-handedly has changed the course of hepatitis C education and treatment.”

And the good work she did continues. According to Mayoclinic.org information published in March 2020: “Until recently, hepatitis C treatment required weekly injections and oral medications that many HCV-infected people couldn’t take because of other health problems or unacceptable side effects. That’s changing. Today, chronic HCV is usually curable with oral medications taken every day for two to six months.”

Some business owners adopt customer service policies advocated by specialists in the field. Others tailor time-honored protocols to their specific core values. Then, there are the Ann Jesses who go out and create a whole new level and type of customer service altogether.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look more at Ann Jesse’s inspiring contributions.

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Mark Lusky
mark@marklusky.com

Mark Lusky (aka The Happy Curmudgeon)
is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm. He’s a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience, and author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage.

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