‘I lost my leg while in service and was given infected blood’ – former soldier

A former soldier who lost his leg while serving in the Army has described his shock at finding out that he was given contaminated blood as medics fought to save his life.

Brendan West lost his leg in 1979 and was given a blood transfusion while at a British military hospital in Germany.

Four decades later, he discovered that the blood he was given was infected with Hepatitis C.

Mr West, now 63, only discovered that he was infected with the virus when he was turned away from giving blood.

Subsequent tests have revealed that he has suffered severe liver damage as a result of the virus going undetected for so many years.

And he also has to be monitored for a life-threatening bleeding condition.

Mr West signed up to the Army in 1976 and was deployed to a British Military base in Germany as part of his work with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME).

While on duty outside of the barracks in 1979, Mr West was in a hit-and-run car accident and suffered multiple injuries.

He told the PA news agency that his leg was “smashed to pieces”, all of his ribs were broken and he also suffered a fractured elbow.

Mr West said he was first treated at a Belgian hospital and then was sent to a British military hospital in Germany.

“I still had my leg at the time, it was smashed up,” he said.

“I was becoming more and more ill – I don’t know if it was gangrenous or not – but they had to amputate it and I was given a lot of blood.

“I assume the people who gave me blood were totally unaware of the risk (of infected blood) – I wouldn’t blame surgeons, or nurses, or whoever gave me the blood, but systematically there is obviously some blame there.”

Mr West described how he has needed further surgeries throughout his life, including two knee replacements and a hip replacement, adding: “What I find interesting is at no time was the Hep C discovered in 40 odd years, I find that really strange.”

Infected Blood Inquiry
Brendan West lost his leg in 1979 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He added: “I think the galling aspect for me is that the way multiple governments, but particularly this Government, have reacted (to the infected blood scandal).”

“Having served my country, and trying to have faith in the government, but all I see publicly is that they’re kicking me while I’m down.

“I’m lucky to be alive – there are so many dead: children; mothers; fathers – yet the government continue to delay by design.”

Mr West was diagnosed after he tried to give blood during the coronavirus pandemic.

“During lockdown, I just wanted to do something good,” he told PA.

“I went to give blood and I got a shock letter which came through the post and said ‘you have got Hepatitis C antibodies, we can’t take your blood’.

“Then I had to go and be tested for the virus and one of the specialist nurses said: ‘By the looks of the reading you have had this for more than 20 years’.

“We then backtracked through my Army medical records and it seems it was as a result of a blood transfusion from my injuries.”

Trained as a vehicle mechanic during his time in the Army, Mr West went on to work for a large multinational company after he was medically discharged.

Now retired, he recalls various episodes of unexplained illness during his working life that he has now realised were caused by Hepatitis C.

“I had numerous unexplained illnesses and episodes of exhaustion, which affected my working life in a big way,” he said.

“I worked hard and progressed while suffering bouts of illness and periods of exhaustion.

“At one point I was offered a promotion which would involve lots of international travel but I had to turn it down because I knew I wasn’t physically able to take on that role.”

Mr West, who was born in Colne, Lancashire, needs aids to get around including prosthetics, crutches, walking sticks and a wheelchair.

He continued: “After the diagnosis, it was discovered that I have pretty severe liver damage as well so I’m monitored every six months for liver cancer, which is a likely end for me.

“I also have varices in the oesophagus… I’ve tried to be positive about things… but I’ve been told I might bleed to death when they burst.

“Psychologically it has affected me really badly.”

He added: “It has dramatically affected me and the worst part about it is seemingly the Government is totally uncaring about it.”

Mr West – who now lives in Farnborough, Hampshire, with his cat Shorty – said that he “kept pretty quiet” about his diagnosis.

“It has taken a lot for me to speak to people about it, but now things are coming to a head because of the lack of government activity, I have decided to speak up.”

He decided to share his story with the PA news agency ahead of the final report of in the Infected Blood Inquiry, which is due to be published on May 20.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “For decades, people who received infected blood or blood products, and their loved ones, were stigmatised, vilified and disbelieved.”

“Brendan’s story highlights the many ways in which people impacted by the infected blood scandal have been and continue to be let down at every possible stage by consecutive governments.”

A Government spokesman said: “This was an appalling tragedy that never should have happened.

“We are clear that justice needs to be done and swiftly, which is why we have acted in amending the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

“This includes establishing a new body to deliver an infected blood compensation scheme, confirming the Government will make the required regulations for it within three months of royal assent, and that it will have all the funding needed to deliver compensation once they have identified the victims and assessed claims.

“In addition, we have included a statutory duty to provide additional interim payments to the estates of deceased infected people.

“We will continue to listen carefully to the community as we address this dreadful scandal.”