Northern Ireland news

My husband begged me to kill him after he contracted hepatitis C, woman tells infected blood inquiry

Richard Lowry with his two sons. Picture: family handout/PA
Rebecca Black, Press Association

A woman has recalled how her "gentle giant" husband begged for death after hepatitis C destroyed his health.

Sharon Lowry, from Newtownards, Co Down, said her husband Richard was forced to leave the teaching career he loved as his health deteriorated after he was infected by a contaminated blood product to treat his haemophilia.

Giving evidence to the infected blood inquiry sitting in Belfast, she described her 6ft 7in husband as a proud and quietly spoken gentleman who inspired his pupils.

Mr Lowry was a teacher at a grammar school and had become vice principal before he became too ill to work.

Mrs Lowry said he received treatment with blood products in 1969, 1970, 1972 and 1973 for mild haemophilia.

In 1991 he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and over time his symptoms became more severe.

Mrs Lowry described how in 2009 he received a liver transplant but his condition continued to worsen. He was in and out of hospitals in both London and Belfast.

By the end of his life, Mrs Lowry said he had become "a skeleton with skin on".

"That's the only way I can describe him," she told the inquiry. "He had no flesh. He had no muscle."

The long spells in hospital and being left so weak that even sitting up in a wheelchair was painful resulted in him losing the will to carry on, Mrs Lowry said.

A few days before he died, he begged her to kill him.

"To say that in words is horrific, it's not what you expect to hear – he just wanted to die, he had had enough," she said.

Mrs Lowry said at no stage was she offered counselling, and she told the inquiry that when asking for help to pay for hospital car parks as she spent hours at his bedside, the response was "he doesn't have cancer, no, go away".

Her husband died on November 28 2011 from chronic renal failure with cirrhosis.

"He was such a big man, there was a massive gap. You really do miss him, we still miss him," she told the inquiry.

"It's the simplest things. You go and buy a birthday card for someone, all you see is cards for fathers, husbands – even now I hate things like that.

"Seeing couples walking around hand in hand. We used to hold hands all the time.

"Family weddings are hard without him there, I just find it incredibly lonely without him.

"We were robbed of the life together we thought we were going to have."

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Around 2,400 people died.

Mrs Lowry said she hoped the British government would "accept responsibility and liability for what should never, ever have happened".

The inquiry later heard from Mark Donnelly, from Co Armagh, who was just eight when his father died at the age of 50 after being infected with HIV through contaminated blood products.

He described how his mother blamed herself for what happened and the guilt drove her to chronic alcoholism.

"My mother blamed herself for infecting my father with HIV from factor 8 that she believed she had administered," he told the inquiry.

"I can't help but wonder if the truth was told from the beginning, would my mother have felt as guilty and would she possibly still be alive today."

Mr Donnelly criticised what he termed the "deliberate scaremongering" by advertising campaigns in the 1980s which he claimed "created an environment of fear and further legitimised the stigma that surrounded HIV and hepatitis C sufferers".

"The government and these ad campaigns conveniently avoided telling the truth of what was going on in NHS hospitals with NHS supplies of contaminated blood products," he said.

"My father, like thousands of others, placed his trust in the NHS doctors to make the best decision for his health and well-being.

"These same pharmaceutical companies collected blood from the cheapest possible sources such as prisons, greatly increasing the chance of having an infected donor.

"In my opinion, given all this, someone was certainly to blame for my father's death, should it be a pharmaceutical CEO who made a decision to buy cheap blood from prisons or perhaps a government minister who looked the other way while infected blood products were dished out on their watch or even maybe a doctor who prescribed blood products knowing the increased dangers and chance of infection.

"I know one thing for certain, although my mother was certainly not to blame, another innocent life taken by guilt, a guilt that belongs to someone else."

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