December 15, 2006

Albertan lost everything to horrors of Hep-C

By BROOKES MERRITT, EDMONTON SUN


Jim Gerow poses for a photograph following a news conference at the Mayfield Inn in Edmonton on Friday. His wife, Yvonne, received a blood transfusion in 1985 and learned in 1992 that she was badly infected with Hepatitis C. She died in 2003. (Edmonton Sun photo by Darryl Dyck)

Doctors watched for over a decade as Jim Gerow lost his home, job, and life savings trying to save his wife Yvonne from the ravages of hepatitis C.

At one point they begged him to divorce the dying woman, but her husband of 15 years refused.

Speaking in Edmonton Friday, after the federal government announced a $1 billion settlement for victims of the tainted blood scandal, Gerow said he’d still go broke before leaving a spouse to die alone.

“The doctors knew my hardships as Yvonne was dying,” he said. “They told me it would be easier on me if I would just divorce her and let the government care for her.

“I lost the house and cashed in all of my RRSPs to pay for her care, but leaving was unthinkable to me. I stayed by her side until she died in 2003, when HepC finally destroyed her.”

Until Friday, Gerow was among up to 500 Albertans and 6,000 Canadians that lawyers call “forgotten victims” of the tainted blood settlement.

As many as 20,000 Canadians received infected blood from the Canadian blood system in the 1970s and 80s. Many developed HepC infections, which can destroy the liver.

A 1999 agreement compensated only those infected between 1986 and 1990. Because Yvonne contracted the disease in 1985, the couple was left to fend for themselves.

In 1993, when Yvonne began taking costly medications after a liver transplant, Gerow, 47, says his bosses decided the couple was costing the company health plan too much, and fired him.

“No amount of money can replace a life,” he said. “I just hope to have enough to maybe get a house again and to restock my RRSPs. I need to start all over, but I want to begin rebuilding my life.”

Local lawyers Brian Laidlaw, Ken Kolthammer, and Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall said the $1 billion will give between $10,000 and $1 million to victims and their estates.

Canadian lawyers will divvy up $37.3 million in fees, and $20 million will go to administration costs.

The compensation package must be approved in four provincial courts before it’s finalized, but lawyers expect payments to start rolling out in the spring.

“We’re happy with the lump sum payment scheme,” Kolthammer said. “Now we can celebrate the final closure of the tainted blood scandal.”