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'Tainted blood has ruined my life'

Suresh Vaghela and wife Rekha, pictured hosting their god daughters wedding
Suresh Vaghela and wife Rekha, pictured hosting their god daughters wedding
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Suresh Vaghela is living with the ticking timebomb of life threatening diseases HIV, hepatitis C and CJD.

The 55-year-old is battling numerous health issues and taking a myriad of medications to keep him alive and has endured countless hospital admissions.

Suresh’s brother Praful has died along with 1,000 of his friends and in one particular year, Suresh attended 70 funerals.

As well as having his own life affected, Suresh and wife Rekha face a future without children under medical advice and he was forced to give up a job he loved through ill health.

All this suffering and anguish is through no fault of Suresh but down to contaminated blood products given to him by the NHS.

Suresh is one of thousands of haemophiliacs and other patients left with devastating health issues after being given infected blood during the 1970s and 1980s while undergoing medical treatment.

The scandal has already claimed the lives of 2,400 people and there have been allegations of a cover-up. Those affected and their families have been fighting for truth and justice for decades.

Suresh says: “This has absolutely ruined my life and the life of thousands of people.

“The viruses I was infected with have not only taken away my immediate happiness but my future happiness as we were robbed of the chance of having a family.”

Suresh, who grew up in the Fylde Road and Fulwood areas of Preston and went to Christchurch Primary School followed by Tulketh High School, was born with haemophilia, an inherited blood disorder.

Haemophiliacs suffer recurrent bleeding and because of the lack of a clotting factor, after injury an it takes a long time for the blood to stop flowing. Factor VIII is a protein which haemophiliacs need to help their blood clot.

Suresh and his brother contracted HIV and Hepatitis C after being treated with Factor VIII imported from the United States.

Suresh explains: “I was born with haemophilia. My brother Praful, who was a year older than me, was diagnosed with haemophilia at the age of six months, so when I was born, it was one of the first things doctors tested me for.”

Growing up, Suresh and his brother did not know anything different. Suresh recalls: “When we were at school, we would be called up on stage and the rest of the children were told we were ‘special boys’ who they couldn’t play with or touch. At playtime, we had to sit in the classroom and were not allowed to play outside in case we got hurt.

“There were times when the other children would say: ‘Come and play’ so we would, but then our arms would swell because of internal bleeding and it would take three or four weeks to heal. We would be bedridden for weeks.”

When Suresh was about 14, he and his brother began having regular infusions of a new preventative treatment called Factor VIII. Suresh remembers: “When Factor VIII came in, it was like a magic potion which changed our lives.

“Before Factor VIII, if we fell down and hurt ourselves, we would be in bed for a month. But with Factor VIII, within three or four days of a bleed, we would be back to normal.

“Factor VIII gave us greater freedom and we thought it was great.”

Suresh went to boarding college in Coventry to do his O Levels and A Levels. It was during this time he started experiencing health problems. Suresh says: “I suffered a huge bleed and went into hospital. When I came out, my roommate looked at me and said: ‘Your eyes are yellow.’

“I went to see the nurse and was told: ‘There’s nothing to worry about. We were expecting this.’ They must have tested me in hospital and discovered I had hepatitis C and knew the symptoms would manifest at some point.

“I went back to my room half-an-hour later and my roommate had been evacuated and told he couldn’t stay with me and I was quarantined for six weeks.”

Suresh and other victims claim the Department of Health knew the blood products coming from America were questionable but carried on giving them to patients. This is something campaigners want the inquiry to investigate.

Suresh explains: “Factor VIII was made from large pools of donor blood. As there was not enough supply in this country, it was imported from the US. However, in the US, people were paid to donate blood and a lot of convicts, drug addicts, drunks and down-and-outs were selling their blood for money.

“We believe the Department of Health was knowingly giving patients these blood products even though they were aware they were causing viruses and they carried on importing the products because the demand was so high.

“They should have been honest with patients and at least told them there was a risk.

“Everyone trusts their doctor. But haemophiliacs are born with their condition so saw their doctor like a second parent and trusted them to do the best for them.

“And it wasn’t the doctors we were dealing with at fault as most of them did not know there was anything wrong with the blood products.”

Suresh went to do a degree in Birmingham and it was while he was there he was diagnosed with HIV. Suresh recalls: “I went for a regular hospital appointment and was told a blood test showed I had HIV from the Factor VIII.

“I was told to go home, say goodbye to my family and get my paperwork in order as they predicted I had about three to six months to live.”

Suresh outlived his prognosis and the years went by. He got married to wife Rekha in 1989 and began working at Lancashire Library Service where he became senior ethnic minorities librarian.

As time went on, Suresh’s health began deteriorating mainly due to the hepatitis C. Suresh says: “They did not make a big issue of the hepatitis C as HIV was killing a lot of patients. They thought the HIV would kill people long before the hepatitis C became an issue. My liver began swelling and I started a treatment but it didn’t work. I am more than 6ft but I went down to seven stones.

“With new medication, they were able to keep the HIV under control. But the hepatitis C was making my liver swell and my spleen was the size of a football and I couldn’t breathe.”

There was an announcement that haemophiliacs would be given a payout but they had to sign a clause to say they would never sue the Government.

Suresh says: “There was the pressure that if you didn’t sign, other haemophiliacs would not get the money. So we signed the paperwork.”

Suresh faced another bombshell when doctors revealed as well as having HIV and hepatitis C, he had been exposed to vCJD. Suresh says: “It is another timebomb hanging over me.”

Suresh had to deal with the heartache of his brother’s death in 1995.

He was very close to him. Suresh says 1,000 of his friends in the haemophiliac community have died and in one year, he attended 70 funerals.

Suresh and wife Rekha were advised by doctors not to have children. At one point Rekha became pregnant but the couple made the heartbreaking decision to have a termination as Suresh’s health was so precarious. Suresh admits: “That was difficult as you look forward to the prospect of a family. But it was not meant to be. So it is just me, my wife, my mum and our little dog Milo.

“I had to give up work in 2006 because of my health issues. I would have loved to have carried on working but couldn’t cope.”

Suresh finally had a treatment for hepatitis C that worked but the damage already caused left him with liver cirrhosis. Every three months, he has to have scans to check for tumours and cancers. Suresh says: “The HIV is under control with a new set of medication but the hep C has crippled me. I am constantly tired as my liver doesn’t work.

“I am on 14 tablets a day for the HIV and other health issues and on about 10 painkillers a day. On top of that, I am on Factor VIII for the haemophilia.”

Suresh wants the inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal to go ahead as a matter of urgency and for there to be accountability.

He says: “There must be people who said: ‘Yes, we know the blood is bad but we will still bring it into this country.’

“This decision cost lives. I feel sad that so many families have lost loved ones and the haemophiliac community wants truth and justice.

“No one knows how long this inquiry will take and all the time, people are dying from hepatitis C, HIV or associated issues.”