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Man who received contaminated blood reveals shock of discovering he'd been exposed to HIV 'batch'

Paul Kirkpatrick was the first witness to give evidence at the Infected Blood Inquiry in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

A DERRY man has told a landmark public inquiry that he learned an hour before taking the stand how the NHS had treated him with HIV-infected blood decades ago.

Paul Kirkpatrick (53) spoke of his shock after discovering through his lawyer that he had been exposed to the virus while receiving blood transfusions in hospitals for severe haemophilia.

The father-of-two was the first person to give evidence at the opening of yesterday's Northern Ireland sitting of a UK-wide inquiry into a massive NHS scandal involving patients receiving contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite being treated with "dirty blood", Mr Kirkpatrick did not contract HIV. He did however become seriously ill with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

"What shocked me was when I got my medical notes this morning and found a batch of blood I'd received had HIV. In 1984 I was only 19 but was one of the highest blood product users in Northern Ireland as I had a big operation," he told The Irish News.

"I thought there would have been reams of notes, but there was just one page which showed I was tested for HIV and the word 'no' and an exclamation mark beside it... I was very lucky."

Originally from Barrack Street in west Belfast, the senior manger for a global manufacturing company said he was "tied" to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for much of his childhood due to the huge amount of transfusions he needed.

Struggling to maintain his composure, he described how he had lived under different "clouds", fearing he would become ill and die from Aids, CJD or cancer due to his botched treatment.

He also said it was the first time many of his family members and closest friends had heard about his ordeal.

"Me and my wife Rita kept things private, we didn't want anyone to know... I internalised everything. When I went to Queen's in 1980s to study mechanical engineering no-one even knew I had haemophilia," he said.

"My best friend who's here today came up to me after giving evidence to say how he couldn't believe he didn't know any of it. But that's how we chose to keep it."

The couple also revealed the stress they lived under while trying to conceive - and how they were turned down for adoption due to Mr Kirkpatrick's condition.

When they did have twin boys in 2001, the inquiry heard that the new parents became "extremely paranoid" that their babies would become infected with Hepatitis.

"My blood was always open and my wife was following me round the house sterilising everything to make sure there was no risk to the kids," he said.

"That was a real focus of our lives bringing up our children."

He said he would not touch dummies, prepare food or allow the children to get into his bed when he had open wounds.

"Due to my eczema, the white sheets were always speckled red with blood."

Mr Kirkpatrick, whose brother also received contaminated blood and died suddenly from cancer at the age of 51, said he "lives in fear" that his liver may be damaged.

"In recent months we've spoken to other people who also live in fear... the result of all of this is that I am continually exposed to life-threatening events," he said.

"The reason I am speaking publicly is to ensure this never happens again... the thing that rocks me is that people are still dying every four days from Hep C. That could be me."

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