Lancashire woman in blood inquiry talks of meeting others infected with hepatitis C

Infected blood victims and campaigners protest on College Green in Westminster, London calling for action on compensation payments for victims of the infected blood scandal. Picture date: Wednesday February 28, 2024.

A Lancashire woman - along with her two friends who were infected by contaminated blood products - have spoke about meeting.

Nicola Leahey had blood transfusions in 1975 and 1980, which she found out in tests 30 years later in 2009. It was then Ms Leahey found out she had contracted hepatitis C.

Ms Leahey also met Sue Wathen and Joan Edgington through the enquiry and now call each other "blood friends," the PA News Agency reports. Ms Wathen from Northamptonshire was diagnosed with help C in 2014 and doesn't know how she was infected as her blood records "disappeared".


There was only a singular reference in her medical files stating she had "numerous blood transfusions". Ms Edgington of Somerset was infected in January 1991 after receiving a blood transfusion during surgery and was diagnosed a few days later.

All three women have spoken about how unwell they were between infection and treatment, with some feeling poorly during treatment and afterwards. Ms Leahey said she took early retirement as she felt "extremely tired" before her infection was discovered.

Undergoing treatment, the Lancastrian says as she underwent treatment she had gone from being "active" to "being in bed for half the week in a black room".

She told PA: "Because you are on your own when you’re diagnosed and then suddenly the whole world opens up to you, that actually you’re not the only one, and there’s hundreds, thousands of others out there. It’s just that support, it’s that knowledge that we can just speak to somebody and they know how we feel – the desperation.

"There’s the good and there’s the bad, there’s the positive moments to share, you know, we’ll talk about the grandchildren and things like that, but we’ll also be there for each other to know exactly, when you’ve got a bad day and you’re feeling completely zonked out, the negative thoughts, the worry that what is next, you know, are we going to be the next statistic and not be at the next meeting.

"And it’s that insecurity, but being together as a group, we’ve got that security. We all say, we wouldn’t be here as strong if we weren’t all together.

"We call ourselves blood friends."

A friend of Ms Wathen said she was "sickly" and had been "unwell for years". Ms Edgington says she was struck with "chronic fatigue" before undergoing tests for hep C.

Ms Edgington says she was left with health issue from a medical trial which was described as "extremely harsh chemotherapy" that's no longer used for the condition and that she "just survived".

In total, eight friends have kept in touch and have "stuck together" throughout the ordeal. Ms Wathen, Ms Edgington and Ms Leahey spoke to PA during a social visit to London with their friend Christine Burney, whose husband, Peter, died after being infected with hep C.

Ms Edgington said: "I was there at the opening of the inquiry and I went as an individual on my own and just sat in this wonderful auditorium, it was a fabulous space, and I couldn’t believe that all those people there had the same story. And it was overwhelming…just to know you weren’t alone.

"They had very kindly put in some Red Cross people. I think I worked my way through a box of tissues and I kept saying to her: ‘I’m not sad I am just relieved’."

She went on to say "it was the validation" of sharing similar experiences of medical battles that at points seemed inexplicable.

"So where we had maybe begun to feel like we were hypochondriacs, that we were wasting the doctors’ time, that the random blood tests were just an anomaly, no they weren’t," she said. "They were all part of the pattern. So that was just a real personal impact that day, it took me about a fortnight to process it.

"And we’ve had telephone numbers swapping and emails, and then to plug into a group of people who totally got your story, who knew what you were dealing with on a day-to-day basis, who could share articles with you that you could take to your GP, who could tell you about networks and other groups, I can’t tell you the relief.

"It really was magical."

Ms Wathen also attended the opening of the inquiry on her own. "I do think it was quite staggering, that suddenly there were all these other people, and you thought, these are people who have a story," she told PA.

"And I think it put my own story into perspective." Ms Leahey said she lost purpose when she was struggling with treatment, but found it was renewed in the support group she discovered.

"I just lost the purpose, why was I living," she said. "I was a burden to people, rather than the matriarch of the family, which I was known as.

"Now that we’ve got our group of friends, we’ve got a purpose. "We’re here to support each other. We’re here at the end of the phone or WhatsApp or whatever. We’re here. I mean, my aim is to make everyone laugh if they can, you know, just smile, and it helps."

She continued: "That’s my purpose in life now, is I want to find other people who we can help, who have discovered they’ve got it. People out there who haven’t discovered they’ve got it yet, I want to pass that message on.

"But that’s our purpose now is to help and support people and to believe again, to believe that there is life after hep C and we have to keep on together."