‘Until the inquiry, we felt alone’
Attending the Infected Blood Inquiry in Belfast was the first time Lynda Walker had met other parents bereaved by the contaminated blood scandal.
Over the course of four days of hearings, Lynda, whose son Russell died in 1994 aged 27, heard many moving personal testimonies and spoke to others who had gone through similar experiences. Lynda, who was accompanied by her daughter Daniella, said: “Until the inquiry, we felt pretty much alone. At the hearings we got to know a few people and it became a collective experience. It was very emotional at times. It made me feel part of other peoples’ stories.”
Lynda’s son Russell, who had severe haemophilia, was infected with HIV and hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood products. Russell did not let his haemophilia or HIV interfere with his love of motorbikes, travel, festivals, music and playing the guitar. He and his friend even bought a hearse to travel round in, which inspired a song by former Eurovision Song Contest winner Charlie McGettigan.
Lynda said: “People had a life, it is important to recognise that. There were things they lived for – it shouldn’t just be doom and gloom when we remember them.” In March 1994 Russell’s health deteriorated and he was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he remained until his death in August. The shock of being told by doctors that Russell had only months left to live led Lynda to have a breakdown.
Although Russell’s HIV was known to his family and a few friends it was an “unspoken topic”. Lynda said: “After my breakdown I was able to accept that he was going to die, but most other people, including Russ, hung on to the idea that he might survive. It was also as a result of attending the inquiry that she obtained Russell’s medical records, which she had been told had been destroyed.
However, after hearing of other peoples’ successful attempts to get “lost” documents, she applied to the Royal Victoria Hospital and received a substantial amount of medical records, which she has passed on to her legal representatives. Lynda said she was impressed by the “objective” way in which the inquiry was being carried out, and hopes that questions will be answered.
She said: “A lot of people put their trust in the National Health Service, as we did and I am very, very grateful for it. But I do wonder why they didn’t make the blood products in Britain? I do think there is a political and economic case to be answered.”