The tearful widower of one woman who died from HIV contracted through a donated kidney told the Infected Blood Inquiry in Edinburgh yesterday how she “went in for a life-saving 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.
Through tears, the husband of a woman who died in her early 30s, having received the right kidney from the unknowingly infected man, told the inquiry how she was terrified that she may have passed it on to him.
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 she had contracted HIV from the transplanted kidney.
Criticising the NHS of the 1980s for its “very complacent” treatment of HIV patients, he said government adverts about HIV and Aids featuring tombstones left his wife distraught and unable to watch TV because of the “constant reminders”.
He said: “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 roughly 50-strong group of other victims, campaigners and supporters watching the proceedings, inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff praised the witness for his moving testimony.
Sir Brian said: “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.”