Mother told woman with hepatitis C it would be better to kill herself, Infected Blood Inquiry hears

Lesley McEvoy. Picture by Henry Clare/PA Wire.
Lesley McEvoy. Picture by Henry Clare/PA Wire.

A woman who contracted hepatitis C was told by her mother that it would be better to kill herself than go through treatment, an inquiry has heard.

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Lesley McEvoy told the Infected Blood Inquiry that her mother warned her that "dying of liver disease was the most horrible way to go" and that "my husband, my soulmate and best friend, would not want to live with me like this".

The 59-year-old said on Thursday that, despite her recovering from the virus, her husband unexpectedly left her the following year, saying that one day he said he loved her and then "never came back home".

The mother-of-two, from Cheshire, explained how she had a blood transfusion in November 1985 when she had a haemorrhage following the birth of her first son.

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She said she had been resistant to the idea of the transfusion because she had heard warnings about HIV, but said she was accused by a doctor at the Staincliffe Maternity Hospital in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, of being a "bed blocker" and "paranoid".

After being told that she could be given heat-treated blood, which she was told did not carry the risk of HIV, she was given two litres of blood on November 26, her birthday.

She said: "I know that 10.30am on the 26th November 1985 was when I was infected with hepatitis C."

The inquiry, which is currently sitting in Leeds, heard how decades later, in 2004, Miss McEvoy started to feel "extreme fatigue" and joint pains.

Despite going to her GP in Bradford about the issues, she said she was told that the only thing she could be diagnosed with was high-blood pressure, saying that one locum GP dismissed her fears and simply said: "Do you want a sick note, is that what this is all about?"

The inquiry heard how, in February 2007, she heard an interview with The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick in which the entrepreneur, who died months later, revealed she had hepatitis C.

"I sat there and just thought, that's me, she's talking about me - she's talking about my symptoms," Miss McEvoy said.

The mother-of-two was told that she had not been tested for hepatitis C because there was no record of the 1985 blood transfusion, which would have flagged as a risk factor and prompted a test.

Discussing the day she told her mother, who was in her 80s at the time, about the diagnosis, she said: "My mother looked me in the eye and told me that dying of liver disease was the most horrible way to go.

"She said she wouldn't want her grandsons to see that, and told me the best thing I could for myself and my children was to kill myself.

"She said my husband, my soulmate and best friend, would not want to live with me like this, that he did not sign up for it and he would leave.

"That was my mother. I could not believe it."

The inquiry heard how, after unsuccessfully undergoing 48 weeks of gruelling interferon and ribavirin treatment with St James's University Hospital in Leeds, she underwent a medical trial at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London.

Explaining how she lost her toenails, eyelashes and some of her hair as a result of the treatment, and was unable to take a remedy drug because of the nature of the trial, she said: "I felt like I was taking toxic poison, hoping it would kill the virus."

In 2010 she was finally cleared of hepatitis C, but the inquiry heard how her marriage broke down shortly afterwards.

She said: "In October 2011 he got up, told me he loved me, kissed me goodbye and went to work.

"He never came back home after that day. I never saw him again, except in a court when he sued for divorce."

She said he told her that "the treatment and the drug trial had been too much for him, that he had turned into a carer and not a husband, that he had cleaned up my vomit and nursed me, and that he no longer saw me as a lover and a wife but as a patient".

At the end of her testimony, Sir Brian Langstaff, the chairman of the inquiry, which is looking into the infection of thousands of NHS patients with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s, asked whether it was possible that the blood she was given in 1985 had not been heat-treated.

Jenni Richards QC, who is leading the questioning of the witnesses, said that this was "one inference" that could be drawn, but Sir Brian said he needed more evidence before reaching a conclusion.