‘It was a comfort to know we weren’t alone’
When the Infected Blood Inquiry opened in Belfast, Christina and her family were still reeling from the death of their brother, Shea Conway, a year earlier. Shea, who had severe haemophilia, had contracted hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood products and died of liver cancer at the age of 45, six months after receiving his cancer diagnosis.
Christina, her sister Patricia and brother John, jointly gave evidence to the inquiry. Christina said: “I watched how Jenni Richards QC and all the inquiry team worked so professionally, they were so dignified and for the people. We really got a sense of that.
“After I’d given evidence a lot of people came up to me and said ‘thank you so much, I would love to have done that but I just feel like I don’t want people knowing what happened to my father or my brother but you’re saying what I wanted to say…’. “
Christina said: “If we’re going to open our lives up in that way then it has to benefit more people than just us, and I think it has.”
It is important to remember the third generation. They’re not infected, but they’re badly affected. Young people with haemophilia need reassurance that the inquiry is there as a support to them as well.Christina
She is particularly impressed by inquiry chair, Sir Brian Langstaff. Christina said: “Nothing escapes him. He picks up on every point and pays very close attention to every detail. You feel like you’re the only story in his focus.”
Shea was described by his siblings as the “baby of the family” who had always been protected by their parents. He was a talented snooker player, who had once beaten Jimmy White. After his diagnosis of hepatitis C he received a scan which was clear. Ten years later, Shea was scanned again after complaining of stomach pains, which was when his cancer was discovered.
Christina and her family are keen to highlight the importance of regular liver scans for anyone with hepatitis C, a call that has been repeated many times by witnesses to the inquiry. Christina’s eldest brother, Eddie, who has haemophilia and is infected with hepatitis C, has just been told he has cirrhosis of the liver after the family pushed for a scan for him. Christina’s cousin Michael, who also had haemophilia, died of liver cancer eight weeks before Shea at the age of 59.
The experience of meeting others at the inquiry who had experienced similar loss, anger and frustration was a great support to the family.
Christina said: “We’ve always been very isolated here, but it was so lovely for Sir Brian to bring it to Belfast so that everybody could get there and get involved. It gave us a lot of comfort to know that we were not alone.”
Christina said she was “embarrassed and angry” at a legal intervention on behalf of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Health and Social Care Board to protect the doctors named during the hearings. Sir Brian dismissed the legal challenge.
The contaminated blood scandal has had a big impact on Christina’s family, including her two children. Her son, Luke, 16, has severe haemophilia and has been following the inquiry closely. Christina said: “It’s important to remember the third generation – they’re not infected but they’re badly affected. The younger generation are watching this, they’re living this. My son turns round to me and says ‘if they can tell lies to them, am I safe?’.
“Young people with haemophilia need reassurance that the inquiry is there as a support to them as well. The inquiry affects their lives. “Christina has lost trust in the medical profession and says she can never forgive what has happened.
However, she has faith in the inquiry. She said: “As a family we’re very encouraged. I hope it uncovers the truth. I just hope the positive fall-out from the inquiry continues for years so that we’re all protected, because at the minute we’re not.”