NEWS
28/09/2018 07:30 BST | Updated 28/09/2018 11:04 BST

Contaminated Blood Scandal: 'I Lost Both Parents Within 8 Days Of Each Other'

'Mum was trying to fight for answers for her kids, now I'm doing that for her'.

Emma Youle
Lauren Palmer's dad and mum died within days of each other from deadly viruses in infected blood

As a young girl of only nine-years-old, Lauren Palmer faced the unimaginable tragedy of both her parents dying within eight days of each other.

Although she was too young to know it at the time, the 34-year-old’s parents were both victims of a health disaster widely called the worst in the history of the NHS - the contaminated blood scandal.

In an appalling sequence of events, Lauren was orphaned and her family torn apart as a result of the medical mistreatment of her father.

“My dad had a blood disorder called haemophilia,” she told HuffPost UK. “He was given Factor VIII products and treatments that were contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C.

“He ultimately was infected and then passed it onto my mother as well, and they sadly both died back in 1993 eight days apart from each other. It literally destroyed our family.”

Supplied by Lauren Palmer
Lauren's mother Barbara Palmer holding her as a toddler

The freelance make-up artist’s father, Stephen, had the inherited genetic disorder haemophilia, in which the body lacks blood clotting factors resulting in sufferers having painful bleeds that take a long time to stop.

Factor VIII treatment was considered a revolutionary new medical break-through in the 1970s and 1980s as it could be injected to replace the missing clotting factors instead of haemophiliacs having long hospital stays to stop bleeds.

But in a deadly oversight, now the subject of a landmark public inquiry, the blood products were contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C and thousands of haemophiliacs were infected with one or both viruses.

Lauren’s dad Stephen was one of them, and he died as a result of Aids and health complications from the hep C virus aged just 36 in August 1993. Eight days later, her mum Barbara also passed away aged 40.

“My dad had been quite ill beforehand,” says Lauren, who lives in Bristol. “As a result he moved out because he didn’t want us to see how ill he was. But it all happened really quickly with my mum.

“It was almost unnoticeable, we didn’t really suspect anything and I didn’t notice anything - being nine-years-old - until very near the time, and then it all happened very quickly. Within a matter of months of her telling us she was ill, she was in hospital and that was it.”

Supplied by Lauren Palmer
Lauren's mother Barbara died aged 40

Their deaths shattered the family life Lauren had known in the little West Berkshire village of Kintbury. Her half-brothers, aged 13 and 17, went to live with their father while she went to her aunt and uncle’s.

“It was really tough, really awful, being separated from them as we were a whole family before,” she says. “Every time I would go and visit them and then come back, I would initially be so upset for a good number of days. It’s one of those things you just had to get on with.

“We’ve stayed very close, but unfortunately they didn’t live very close by, so it was always just visiting them in school holidays and stuff like that.”

Not only her parents untimely deaths, but also the horrifying circumstances that led to them, have shaped Lauren’s life since. Because of her age then, she does not remember much about her mum and dad’s thoughts on what had happened to them.

But she has fought to find out more about the circumstances of their deaths, obtaining medical records and working to raise awareness of the blood disaster along with other infected and bereaved people through the campaign group, Factor 8 UK.

Supplied by Lauren Palmer
Lauren's mum Barbara on her wedding day

“Being so young, I think a lot of it was kept hidden from me,” she says of her parent’s views on what happened. “So I don’t really know their feelings and emotions. I do know my mum was trying to find answers and fight for her children right to the end, which is why I’m carrying on doing that for her really.”

Lauren’s dad was one of an estimated 3,900 haemophiliacs who were infected with one or both of the HIV and hep C viruses and at least 1,246 have since lost their lives.

Other wives and partners of infected men were also given the viruses unwittingly through having sexual relationships with their husbands, who did not know they had the viruses.

The date of Lauren’s birth has left her with one important memento of her parents - although she has no photographs of her dad and only a handful of pictures of her mum.

As a Christmas baby born on December 25, 1983, her birth was documented in the local newspaper, which published a picture.

The old black and white cutting shows the beaming new parents proudly holding their baby daughter wrapped in a white blanket.

Supplied by Lauren Palmer

“I literally don’t have any pictures of my dad,” says Lauren. “There is just this one newspaper clipping of me when I was born on Christmas Day with my mum and dad, that’s it. I’ve got a few of mum but she didn’t really have a lot of photographs with us either. She didn’t really like having her photograph taken.”

On Monday, Lauren was among five hundred people who attended the opening of the Infected Blood Inquiry at Church House in London. A picture of her parents featured in a video shown at the commemoration ceremony that opened the inquiry.

As she stood on the steps of Church House, set in a idyllic green square just behind Westminster Abbey, Lauren told HuffPost UK: “This is our last chance for justice.”

Supplied by Lauren Palmer
A picture of Lauren's mother on a commemoration table at the Infected Blood Inquiry features a message from her daughter

“I feel if people really realised how huge this is and how many people have lost their lives, and also the knock-on effects on people - because there are children, there are families - the scale of this disaster is the biggest that has ever happened within the NHS, and I think once the public are aware of that they will be completely shocked,” she says.

“I’ve dealt with everything that happened years ago but now it’s a case of getting closure and finding the truth for my parents and everyone else who has died. I think it’s just really important that we uncover exactly what happened and why it happened.”

The Infected Blood Inquiry opened with three days of preliminary hearings on Monday to Wednesday this week. It is due to reopen on April 30 next year.