A Montgomery couple had been married for more than 50 years. But never in their marriage have they experienced a tragedy like the one that occurred on Oct. 18, 2010, when the husband went in for heart surgery at Baptist Medical Center in Montgomery and was discharged from the hospital infected with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is the same virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The blood came from a donor who had just donated on October 10, 2010. The donor had just been exposed to HIV days before he donated the blood that ultimately went to our client. Unfortunately, even the most sensitive tests cannot detect HIV if the donor was exposed to the virus within 10 days before the blood donation, making the donor screening process is so important.
Sadly, the blood bank that took this donor’s blood did not properly screen this donor. The blood bank approved the use of this donor’s blood despite the donor’s recently positive result for another potentially serious virus, called cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, similar in method of transmission to that of HIV. Although common, CMV can be dangerous to an individual with a weakened immune system, such as an infant or an organ transplant recipient. In doing this, the blood bank violated its own policy, which states that the blood bank will not provide blood for transfusions that contains an infection.
Also, in taking this donor’s blood, the blood bank missed several red flags. A blood bank uses a donor form to screen potential donors. By looking at this donor’s form, it is obvious to the blood bank that the donor is an EMT because he is required to list his profession on the donor form. The same form contained a question about whether the donor had come into contact with someone else’s blood. When the donor asked the blood bank whether he should say “yes” when asked if he had come into contact with someone else’s blood, the blood bank told him to answer “no.”
Blood banks should never coach donors on how to answer the donor questionnaire. The evidence at trial showed that the donor had, in fact, been exposed to blood and bodily fluids on a regular basis while working as an EMT, as common sense dictates. The blood bank ignored the donor’s occupation and improperly coached him into saying that he had not been in contact with someone else’s blood.
In addition, this donor was donating frequently at multiple locations and had self-deferred just months before donating the HIV-contaminated blood in October. A self-deferral is when a potential donor undergoes the process blood donation, but then declines to allow the blood to be used by the blood bank. The evidence at trial showed that a person may self-defer if that individual believes his blood to be unsafe.
Despite all of these red flags and the presence of CMV, a potentially dangerous virus, the blood bank approved this blood for a transfusion and it was given to our client, the husband, during his heart surgery. The blood bank did not notify our client that he had HIV until the next summer when the same original donor attempted to donate blood again and his blood tested positive for HIV. When our client asked the blood bank how this could have happened, the blood bank told him that this infected just “slipped through the cracks.” Because of this blood bank’s “slip-up,” our client contracted HIV. He sued the blood bank and the blood bank technician for negligence and wantonness in screening the donor.
When our client learned of his diagnosis, he spiraled into a deep depression where he thought about taking his own life. He testified on the stand about the toll the diagnosis has had on him:
After I found out I had HIV, I could not bear to be around many people. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my lifetime. … There were two or three times that I wanted to end it all. Dr. (Karl) Kirkland has pulled me a long way out of it.
When asked on the stand how he is doing with the HIV diagnosis, our client replied, “I’m existing.” Our client’s wife also filed a claim against the blood bank and blood technician for loss of consortium. She testified at trial that she lives in fear every day that she will get HIV. Their marriage of more than 50 years will never be the same.
The jury found for our clients against the blood bank and technician. There will be no appeal of the jury verdict in this case. Hopefully, the blood bank will change its screening procedures, or at the very least, follow existing procedures, to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening to someone else. Hopefully, the blood bank’s corporate officers will read the message that the jurors left on the verdict form. We agreed not to mention the amount of the verdict or the name of the blood bank in this report, but that information was made public by the local media that covered the trial. Gibson Vance, Cole Portis, LaBarron Boone and Stephanie Monplaisir, all from our firm, handled this case for our clients and they did a good job. Hopefully, the verdict, which by the way, won’t be appealed by the blood bank, will cause this organization to do a much better job in the future.
Source: Centers on Disease Control
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