Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tainted blood

That's what my Mom received in 1977, a tainted blood transfusion. It saved her life at the time, and I wouldn't have been born otherwise, but it almost took her life 38 years later.

My Mom was a victim of the tainted blood scandal and contracted Hepatitis C. She only found out she carried the virus last spring (2014). I remember the phone call clearly. My parents had emailed to ask if we could talk sometime over the upcoming weekend (we were still living in Boston at the time). We had no idea what was coming, and after some awkward storytelling (where we thought a different C word was going to be relayed), we were informed of my Mom's condition. It was the same weekend we were planning to inform our families that I was pregnant.

The CBC has a full timeline of the tainted blood scandal. According to the timeline, Hepatitis C (not yet identified as type C) began appearing in 1971. In 1978, the American Red Cross informed the Canadian Red Cross that blood donations may be tainted, but testing for HIV didn't begin until 1985, and it took until 1990 for direct testing of donations for Hepatitis C. Yeah. The Krever Commission began in 1993 looking into Canada's blood system. The following year the Red Cross recommended that people who received blood transfusions be tested, but as far I know, the Red Cross didn't actually contact people directly and tell them to get tested. Finally, in the late 1990s, lawsuits were launched to obtain compensation for all people infected by tainted blood.

My Mom, Dad, my brothers and I are all eligible for compensation.

What you might be wondering now is, how could my Mom have lived for 37 years without knowing she had Hepatitis C? Well, Hepatitis is a 'silent' disease, meaning there aren't a lot of obvious symptoms until the illness is quite advance. Things like fatigue, lethargy, and loss of appetite are typical, but could be interpreted of signs for almost anything. However, once the disease is advanced, liver damage (cirrhosis), organ failure, and liver cancer can occur (Canadian Liver FoundationCDC). As we learned from my Mom's experience, the liver does a lot more than act as a filter. It creates important proteins that keep the fluid of the vascular system where it should be (and not leaking out into the lungs), and helps manufacture platelets (an important factor in clotting). So, when the liver is damaged, many other bodily functions start to break down.

After 38 years of living with Hepatitis C, my Mom's liver was severely damaged. Even before she went into the ICU in June, there had been talks of liver donation. After she went into the hospital it became evident that if a transplant didn't occur, it was unlikely that my Mom would survive.

As a dose of irony, even if my Mom had found out about her condition earlier, she wouldn't have been cured of Hepatitis C any sooner. Yes, her condition could have been managed, but not cured. It was only in 2014 that, Harvoni, the drug my Mom was eventually treated with, was approved by Health Canada. Her most recent blood tests show she is now free of Hepatitis C.

So that it. That's more-or-less the story of my Mom's illness without going into any private details. In my next post I'll talk about the importance of organ donation.



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