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Hepatitis was the furthest thing from their minds

Surely it was just a cold.

When the aches and chills hit him in mid-October, Kevin Costello told himself it was no big deal.

As a salesman who works on commission for a North Hills firm, Costello couldn't afford to neglect current or potential clients, never mind his wife and two children. He's seldom sick, and he figured he'd snap back into shape in a day or two.

Only, he didn't.

By Halloween, he felt so lousy he barely could drive his 11-year-old daughter to trick-or-treat with a friend. A week later, he was worse -- feverish, fatigued and nauseated -- and worried that he'd gotten a particularly nasty strain of flu.

Then on Nov. 5, a radio news report made him gasp. Minutes later, he was dialing his doctor. That afternoon: a diagnosis of hepatitis A.

"I heard them talking about the Chi-Chi's thing. I thought, 'My God, that's what I have,'" said Costello, 47, of Cranberry. "I was so weak by then, it was all I could do to drive. This has been the worst thing I've ever had in my life."

Costello, his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Colleen, had popped in to Chi-Chi's for a night out on Friday, Oct. 3. Their 14-year-son, Brian, didn't want to go -- a decision that irked Costello then but later brought him some peace of mind.

The Costellos ate different entrees. Kevin had fajitas and a salad garnished with diced green onions, which investigators now believe carried the virus that caused the outbreak.

Around Oct. 20, Costello suspected he'd caught a cold. Halloween came and went, and he was still shivering. He'd look at food and turn away, stomach swirling. He craved rest, but naps were broken by chills or by the puzzling need to urinate every hour or so. He popped a few Tylenol, but got only brief respite from his killer headache and throbbing limbs.

"I lived on ginger ale," he said. "We'd go to Giant Eagle and wipe out the shelf."

In early November, his urine turned alarmingly dark. He was about to consult the doctor when he heard the radio report about dozens of others who'd been stricken with hepatitis A after eating at Chi-Chi's.

Costello spent the first two weeks of the month in bed, yellow with jaundice, fretting about lost income and sick with worry that his family, too, would get sick. His wife and children got immune globulin shots and have not gotten ill.

"When people are dying from this, you start thinking, 'I have two children [who] I truly want to see grow up.' I added on the prayers," he said. "And I can't get over the number of people who've been praying for me."

Now 10 pounds lighter, Costello is working a couple of hours at a time. He's grateful to be feeling stronger, but must pace himself or be wiped out the next day.

And he's resigned but rueful that he and his daughter will have to forgo their elaborate, climb-two-ladders ritual of setting up their 10-foot-high Christmas tree and trimming it with heirloom ornaments. This year, it's a tiny tree from Wal-Mart.

"One of the most special things I do all year is to do that tree with my daughter," he said. "This year, it's too overwhelming, and I'm angered that hepatitis has taken away that special time.

"I've had enough. I want my life back the way it was."

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