‘I live my life six months at a time,’ says NI contaminated blood victim

A Co Antrim man who contracted hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood has told a public inquiry that he is forced to live six months at a time.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 22nd May 2019, 6:16 pm
Simon Hamilton, chairman of Haemophilia Northern Ireland, giving evidence at the infected blood inquiry in Belfast
Simon Hamilton, chairman of Haemophilia Northern Ireland, giving evidence at the infected blood inquiry in Belfast

Glengormley-born Simon Hamilton gave powerful testimony during the second of four days of witness hearings in Belfast, as part of a UK-wide investigation into the contaminated blood scandal – described as the worst treatment disaster to ever hit the NHS.

Some 4,800 people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C or HIV after being given tainted blood in the 1970s and 1980s. More than 2,000 are thought to have died.

Mr Hamilton and his twin brother Nigel, both mild haemophiliacs, contracted the potentially fatal virus after being given contaminated blood transfusions.

Yesterday, 58-year-old Mr Hamilton told how he now lives with cirrhosis of the liver and must be tested every six months to determine if he has cancer.

His brother Nigel, who will give evidence to the inquiry tomorrow, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2017 and later had a transplant.

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The family also lost two cousins infected through transfusions.

In his testimony, an emotional Mr Hamilton outlined the affect the virus has had on his physical and mental health, as well as the trauma his family has endured.

He added: “My wife has carried the stress and strain of my journey, and my son has also been impacted.”

The inquiry heard that the father-of-one had “bottled up” his feelings for many years and had only recently started receiving psychological support.

Mr Hamilton also recounted the stigma he had experienced after being diagnosed with hepatitis C, particularly when it came to receiving dental treatment.

He added: “I felt dirty, unclean, guilty of something I hadn’t done because of the reaction of some professionals who simply refused to take x-rays. As a young man it made me very angry, because I didn’t see any justice in it.”

He also spoke of the need for victims of the scandal – who he described as “a damaged people” – to share their harrowing stories.

Holding back tears, Mr Hamilton told the panel: “I feel the importance of speaking for those who aren’t here, and there are many.

“We are a community of sufferers and we have to fight for our voices to be heard. We have waited for 40 years.

“Those of us who are here will get some closure on this process, but I cannot let go of the thought of those who had that experience alone and are no longer here. I can’t shake that sense of loss and their sense of fear for what lay ahead.”

Meanwhile, a woman whose mother had to undergo two liver transplants after being infected with tainted blood has spoken of the devastating impact the ordeal has had on her family.

Giving evidence to the inquiry in Belfast, Danielle Mullan told how her mother Marie contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion in 1981 after giving birth.

Ms Mullan said she felt like “some sort of leper” at school after her friends learned of her mother’s condition.

She added: “Some kids wouldn’t stand too close to me, some of them wouldn’t touch a bottle I had lifted, they wouldn’t pass a ball to me.”

Ms Mullan also said that she became “more of a carer than a daughter” after her mother’s health deteriorated, which she said had a “knock-on effect” on her schoolwork and grades.

Later in life, she lost a job due to poor attendance as she was forced to look after her mother.

The inquiry also heard that Ms Mullan’s father had taken early retirement from a “very good job” to care for his sick wife.

As a result of the hepatitis C, Ms Mullan’s mother was told her liver was badly damaged and she would need a transplant, which she received in 2007.

However, while the transplant initially appeared to be successful, the hepatitis C soon began attacking the new liver.

She once again developed cirrhosis and was again placed on the transplant list.

But before she could receive another liver, Ms Mullan’s mother had to undergo a new treatment to clear the virus from her body.

She eventually underwent a second transplant in 2015.

Despite this, Ms Mullan said: “I can’t say that she has got her life back again.

“She now suffers from extremely bad gout and they think she is developing osteoporosis.”