Infected blood blunders have taken a tragic toll on thousands

Mike Dorricott
Mike Dorricott
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Michael Dorricott is calling for justice for people given tainted blood after he contracted cancer, Here his cousin Catherine Jackson tells his story.

Michael Dorricott and his sister, along with me and my sister, grew up together around Huddersfield. We are close in age, with only a couple of years separating us all. But Mike has cancer. He is 46 years old. He’s been told it’s almost certainly terminal, and for those of us linked by blood, that really is unimaginable.

The mention of blood though is grimly ironic. It was blood – infected NHS blood – which began this whole Russian roulette nightmare.

There is haemophilia in our family line. I don’t think anyone really knows just how far back it goes, but it is most certainly there. My grandmother, like Queen Victoria, was a carrier; that in turn was passed down the line to my aunt and it wasn’t until her second child, a son – Mike – that it was discovered. The clotting disorder, sometimes known as “the royal disease”, can cause excessive bleeding even from a small wound, concerning enough when a small external cut is evident, but most worrying when there is internal bleeding, even caused by bruising.

“My parents found out about it when I was about two or three. I fell off my slide and banged my head. My godfather was a pathologist at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and he pointed out that it wasn’t normal for me to have been bleeding for so long – I think it was about six weeks.”

When 15, Mike, who now lives in Sedburgh, Cumbria, was given three doses of the clotting agent Factor VIII. He received this before heat treatment was established in 1985, which ensured its safety. The treatment was for minor bleeds caused by playing football and for teeth extraction, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a teenage boy. Prior to this, he had been treated with a product called Cryoprecipitate, and in 1982, his liver function tests were clear. But the decision to change to Factor VIII was one which changed the rest of his life.

“I am angry about that,” says Mike. “Cryo was made from donor pools of 10 to 20 donors. The background infection of the general population at that time was between 1 and 1.5 per cent I believe. If you had a pool of 10 to 20 people you would be really unlucky to get one donor who was Hepatitis C (HCV) positive.

“Factor VIII was made from pools of up to 20,000 donors. It only takes one to be HCV positive to infect the whole batch. In 20,000 donors you’d be looking at 20-30 donors being HCV positive, so the chances of getting infected were massively higher.

“I was treated at HRI with infected products from 1982 mid-1985. After 1985 the product was heat treated and I wouldn’t have been infected with HCV.

“It’s now taken that the first date of infection for British haemophiliacs was the first time they were treated with Factor VIII.”

Having had the contaminated blood, in 1996 at just 28, he was told he had HCV which had already led to extreme cirrhosis of the liver.

“I should never even have been given this blood product, and that makes me even more angry,” he said. “I was a mild haemophiliac and could have been treated with a drug that multiplies your own clotting factors. I had been playing golf on a regular basis and was really active, but I was getting increasingly tired. I’d have to go to bed as soon as I got home.

“I didn’t realise at the time that this was caused by the HCV. Tiredness is a big symptom for those with liver damage.”

Mike’s illness has had an enormous impact on his life.

“We had just had our second daughter, Ellie, when I found out I was HCV positive. We would have loved to have had more children, but the thought of bringing other children into the family, when my longer term health was so uncertain, was one we had to discount.

“Living day to day with HCV petrified me,” he explains. “All it would take was for the kids to mess around with my toothbrush or razor and they too could have become infected.”

Between 2000 and 2008 Mike had two liver transplants, and was a frequent visitor and patient at Addenbrookes Hospital. Eventually, at the age of 41 he had had to retire from his career as a general manager in the International Division of United Biscuits.

“I was lucky enough to work for a company which was very good to me and for a boss who was massively supportive. I used to love my job as I flew around the world managing a large business with a great team of people.”

Despite his illness, last year he won two gold medals at the World Transplant Games held in Durban, South Africa.

But he has now been told he has terminal cancer of the liver.

“Until this most recent diagnosis, I had been feeling fine, just a bit tired. I’ve had cancer before because of my treatments and beaten it, but this time it’s inoperable and untreatable, with no chance of another transplant. We’re talking months, not years.”

Mike has campaigned hard through the pressure group Tainted Blood to improve the compensation packages for those treated with infected blood, but he found it distressing to hear the impact on other people’s lives as well as his own.

“I won’t be around to help, advise, and support my daughters on their journey into adulthood. I won’t get to walk either of them down the aisle. I won’t get to hold any grandchildren that they may have. I won’t get to grow old with my wife.”