An organ donor who was infected with HIV from a contaminated blood transfusion after a fatal crash passed on the virus to all the recipients of his donated kidneys, heart and liver.
The tearful widower of one woman who died from HIV contracted through a donated kidney told the Infected Blood Inquiry how she “went in for a lifesaving operation, and came out with a death sentence”.
The donor, a 23-year-old man who suffered fatal head injuries in a 1984 crash, received 15 units of blood in an attempt to save his life – one of which was infected with HIV.
When his organs – two kidneys, heart and liver – were donated after his death, the HIV was passed on to each of the unaware recipients, at least two of whom are known to have died as a result.
His late wife had been on the kidney transplant waiting list since she was a teenager, having suffered from chronic renal failure for 13 years, when they received a call to say that a match had been found.
They “jumped in the car and drove all the way down to Manchester” and the widower, who was granted anonymity, explained how the couple thought they would be able to “get on with life” after the operation, free from the dialysis she had been dependent upon.
Following the operation, the witness said: “She was absolutely brilliant, it was a fantastic success and you’ve really got to thank the health service for what they have done – that was just brilliant.”
The inquiry also heard how, at every appointment, the first thing doctors did was to warn the couple not to tell anyone about the HIV diagnosis, using the stigma associated with the condition as the key reason to keep it a secret.
It was only once the woman admitted she had told her close family – who feared that she had cancer – that the “upset” doctor revealed that she had contracted HIV from the transplanted kidney.
Criticising the NHS of the 1980s for its “very complacent” treatment of HIV patients, he said that Government adverts about HIV and Aids featuring tombstones left his wife distraught and unable to watch TV because of the “constant reminders”.
He added: “If tears were made of ink, then I could write a book about the wonderful person who was so cruelly taken from me all those years ago.
“Since then, I have often thought why this terrible disease was ever allowed to infect the thousands of people that it did, as well as the many thousands of relatives and carers who were badly affected by these events.”
Before the evidence session concluded with a standing ovation from the approximately 50-strong group of other victims, campaigners and supporters watching the proceedings, inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff praised the witness for his moving testimony.
“We’ve heard some very disturbing tales in this inquiry. I think few, if any, can be quite as cruel to the sufferer as the story of what happened to your wife.
“She went in for lifesaving treatment and came out with a death sentence, as you put it.
“It has not been easy for you to tell us, but I think everyone listening will understand how important it was that you did, so thank you.”
The inquiry also heard from a haemophiliac who contracted hepatitis C as a child, but doctors failed to tell him or his parents for more than two years.
Letters between Graeme Malloch’s GP and NHS Tayside revealed that doctors discovered hepatitis C in November 1992, but only informed the family in January 1995.
“As a parent myself, I think if I was asked to come in and have my child tested for Aids, I would remember it, and my parents have no recollection of it whatsoever,” Mr Malloch said.
Describing his feelings about the time it took to tell him about his condition, the businessman said: “I’m very angry about it.
“If they knew in 1992, why didn’t they tell us in 1992? It either means somebody withheld that information from us, or somebody wasn’t checking my results.
“Either way, it shouldn’t have happened.”
Asked about his feeling after hearing the diagnosis, Mr Malloch added: “I felt like I was at the beginning of the end of my life.
“I felt like I had just been given a death sentence and I was only 15.”
The inquiry, which is hearing from witnesses who have suffered from contaminated blood received during the 1970s and 1980s – a scandal which is believed to have cost an estimated 2,400 people their lives – continues in Edinburgh.