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Victims of tainted blood still waiting for compensation

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN Ernie Zivny was a happy man July 25 when the federal government announced it would provide compensation for people who contracted Hepatitis C through tainted blood before 1986 and after 1990.
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Ernie Zivny. File photo.

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN

Ernie Zivny was a happy man July 25 when the federal government announced it would provide compensation for people who contracted Hepatitis C through tainted blood before 1986 and after 1990.


He and other victims were told that nearly $1 billion had been set aside to compensate them for their suffering.


But four months later, none of the 5,500 people who expected to receive compensation have gotten any money.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised the victims would have their cheques by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, said Zivny.


“I was sitting here watching CPAC, and I see this new Conservative member bragging about the things that they have done. One of the things he said was, ‘We’ve compensated all Hepatitis C victims.’ That was about a month ago,” he said. “But where is it?”


Sudbury MP Diane Marleau shook Zivny’s hand recently and congratulated him for getting the payout.


“I asked, ‘For what? I haven’t been compensated yet’.”


Receiving compensation from the government won’t make up for suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, an enlarged liver and spleen, diabetes, arthritis, pain and fatigue brought on by Hepatitis C, said Zivny, 59.


But he’s looking forward to what the money can do for him and his wife, Lynda. Perhaps they won’t have to clip coupons and shop at discount stores anymore, he said.


In 1998, Hepatitis C victims who contracted the virus because of tainted blood between 1986 and 1990 received a $1.1 billion out-of-court lawsuit settlement. Until this summer, there was no significant movement on the lawsuit representing pre-1986 and post-1990 victims.


David Harvey, the lawyer representing the people eligible for compensation in Ontario, said he hopes Zivny and other victims will likely receive payouts early next year.


“I think we’re still on track for that. We’re still in the process of finalizing the detailed agreement. It then needs to be approved by courts in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.”


“We’re setting up those court dates, which I expect will happen early in the new year, and once those court approvals are obtained, the application process can start and compensation can be obtained.”


To get compensation, victims have to be able to prove they were infected with blood tainted with Hepatitis C before 1986 and after 1990.


They will get between $10,000 and $300,000 each depending on their age, how sick they are and how much income they’ve lost because of the virus. Families of Hepatitis C victims who have died will also receive compensation, said Harvey.

Zivny was a young Inco worker with a wife and three kids when he contracted Hepatitis C Sept. 15, 1978 after a blood transfusion during an operation to fix his back.


The blood he received was infected with Hepatitis C. He didn’t find out he had the virus until 2001.


Zivny said he had contributed blood to the Red Cross several times after his operation, potentially infecting more people without his knowledge.


Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact. The highest risk activities are receiving a tainted blood transfusion, sharing drug injection equipment, using cocaine and sharing the straw, accidentally poking oneself with a needle used by an infected person and hemodialysis.


The virus attacks the liver, and can cause a variety of health problems like cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, tiredness, aches and pains, and short-term memory loss.


Hepatitis C was first isolated in 1989 and reliable tests to screen for the virus were not available until 1992.


Zivny’s symptoms started shortly after he was infected with the virus. He started noticing he was always tired, and went to his doctor, who said it was just muscle tiredness.


Eventually, after another workplace accident, his doctors agreed he couldn’t go back to work. Inco was about to lay off thousands of workers anyway, and offered Zivny a pension and full health benefits if he’d retire.


The situation was hard on his marriage, and he and his first wife eventually split. He’s been with Lynda since 1980, but they didn’t actually get married until 2002.


Some people infected with Hepatitis C can rid their body of the virus by taking a combination of the drugs pegylated interferon alpha and ribavirin for a period of 24 to 48 weeks. Zivny took the drugs, but has been classified as a non-responder.


Because his liver has been damaged so badly by the virus, he may be put on a list to have a liver transplant within the next year or two.


He’s dealt with Hepatitis C by joining the Circle C Support Group and fighting to receive compensation. The group provides support for all Hepatitis C victims in the Greater Sudbury area, regardless of how they contracted the disease.


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