Feeling utterly exhausted, depressed and anxious, Sheila Thubron reached rock bottom and tried to end her own life by taking an overdose on two separate occasions.
“I was tired out and did not know what was wrong with me and just did not want to be here anymore” recalled the 64-year-old mum-of-four who lives in Springwell Village, Gateshead, near Newcastle.
“I convinced myself it would be preferable if I wasn’t here and my husband met a new wife who could be a better mother to my children than I felt I was at that time.
“It got to the point where I tried to kill myself twice by taking overdoses, but I was found both times. Once my friend found me and another time my husband discovered me.”
The hardest thing for Sheila to fathom was that she never used to be like this and was a happy and positive person who loved life.
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Things only started going wrong a few years after Sheila had her youngest son Jack, now 29. She never imagined her troubles stemmed from the blood transfusion she was given a couple of weeks before he was born.
Sheila, who is married to Derek and has three other children – Joanne, David and Kathryn – as well as Jack, told HuffPost UK: “My first three pregnancies were really smooth and I loved being pregnant. I never had any morning sickness or anything like that. I just glowed.
“I loved being a mum and I already had three children running around when I was pregnant with Jack.
“It was again a very smooth pregnancy – until the 38th week when I found myself feeling very tired and worn out and spent a lot of time in bed.
“The midwife came to see me and told me I was anaemic and that I needed to go to hospital.”
In March 1989, Sheila went into Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead and was given two units of blood for her anaemia.
She admitted she felt wonderful after the transfusion. “I felt brilliant and energised and able to be a normal mum and wife again.
“I got on with the rest on my pregnancy and began preparing for birth.”
Sheila gave birth to Jack on March 29 1989 weighing 8lbs 4oz. “I felt ecstatic” she remembered. “We had our complete family of two boys and two girls.”
However, when Jack was a few years old, Sheila began to feel as though she wasn’t coping as well as she did with her other three children.
She said: “Jack was a wonderful and adorable child but the older I got, the more I struggled.
“I was 35 when I had Jack and the eldest was 12 when Jack was born, so at first I put it down to being a bit older and having four children.
“But as the years went by, I started suffering really badly with depression and anxiety.
“I was taking more and more anti-depressants until I was on the strongest strength I could get. I just could not put my finger on what was wrong and that’s what led to me attempting to take my life.”
Sheila worked as a healthcare assistant at a Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle, which she described as a “dream job”, but ended up leaving as she struggled with her illness.
She became a shadow of her former self and reached a point where she was so depressed and anxious, she didn’t leave the house at all.
I was trying as hard as I could to be a mum by feeding, clothing and loving my children but I just did not have the energy to be the mum I felt they deserved
“I felt exhausted and stopped caring what I looked like and rarely went anywhere,” she said. “If the phone rang, I wouldn’t answer it and if the door went, I jumped out of my skin.
“I felt terrible and it was a horrible time. I was trying as hard as I could to be a mum by feeding, clothing and loving my children but I just did not have the energy to be the mum I felt they deserved.”
Out of the blue, when Jack was 18, Sheila received a letter from the blood transfusion unit, telling her they wanted to speak to her. Sheila went to hospital and was told she had been given blood that contained hepatitis C.
She said: “I was absolutely shocked. They told me that a woman who used to give blood years ago had stopped giving blood and then had started donating again when her children were older.
“They told me that unfortunately the donation I had been given was from this woman, before they started screening blood from 1991.”
The consultant asked Sheila about her symptoms and when she described what her life had been like over the last 18 years, she was told they were classic indicators of the type of hepatitis C she had.
This virus that I had got through no fault of my own had stolen all these years away from me, my children and my husband
“My first feeling was shock, but my second feeling was overwhelming relief that there was a name for what was wrong with me,” she said.
“The more information I got, the more answers I had as to why I had been feeling like I had.
“The next feeling was anger – I was absolutely furious. This virus that I had got through no fault of my own had stolen all these years away from me, my children and my husband.”
Jack had to be tested too but to the family’s relief, he had not contracted the virus.
At the time of diagnosis, the only treatment Sheila could have would have meant her coming off all anti-depressants for six months beforehand – a course of action her doctor felt was too dangerous.
However, last year, Sheila was able to have a new treatment which completely changed her life.
“After taking this treatment for eight weeks, I felt amazing and it was like the whole world was fresh and new,” she said.
“Doctors will not say you are cured, but the hepatitis C is no longer detected.
“Stupidly, because I was on such a high, I stopped taking my anti-depressants without consulting my doctor and unfortunately I crashed.
“I went to my GP and was put back on anti-depressants. I am still on them now, but nothing like the amount I used to take.”
“The whole thing is incredibly sad, especially when you consider all the people who have died
Sheila will be at all three sessions of the Infected Blood Inquiry, which begins today in London, as she says the support she has received from groups such as Tainted Blood has been massive.
“I want honest answers and justice – not just for me but for everyone else as campaigners have been trying to get the truth for decades,” she said.
“I am one of many women who were given tainted blood either before or after childbirth and many others had transfusions for something else and then there were all the haemophiliacs who were given contaminated blood.
“It is the biggest NHS scandal in history and I am still not back to the woman I once was. It robbed me of so many years of my life and caused lasting problems.”
She added: “The whole thing is incredibly sad, especially when you consider all the people who have died; all those who have lost their parents or parents who have lost their children.
“I want to say a huge thank you to Tainted Blood and all the other campaign groups for all the hard work they have done over the decades to finally reach this point of having an inquiry.”