MEDICINE

A FAMILY’S FIGHT AGAINST THE ODDS

DIANE BRADY May 3 1993
MEDICINE

A FAMILY’S FIGHT AGAINST THE ODDS

DIANE BRADY May 3 1993

A FAMILY’S FIGHT AGAINST THE ODDS

At the Conners house in Dartmouth, N.S., money and time are running out. Randy Conners, a 46-year-old former systems analyst, is a hemophiliac. In 1986, he discovered that he had been infected with the AIDS virus by one of the transfusions required to treat his blood disorder. Now he has full-blown AIDS and cannot work. At some point Randy unwittingly transmitted the virus sexually to his wife, Janet. She found out in 1989 in the midst of a course in computer programming. She finished the course, got her diploma and then went home to look after Randy. They have a son, Gus, who is 12 and healthy. But the family’s future is unpromising.

That’s not for lack of trying. In April, 1990, the federal government set up a program to pay $30,000 a year to people who got the AIDS virus from blood transfusions. The Conners have used some of the money

for food and mortgage payments and clothing and a lot of it for their means of survival. Randy and Janet each take six vitamin and mineral pills a day—a monthly expense of about $300 to try to keep up a semblance of strength. They do exercises, partly for strength but also to relieve stress.

There is a lot of stress. In early April, Randy was taken to hospital with severe pneumonia, not uncommon among people with AIDS because their immune systems do not work well. While Randy was in the hospital, the federal support program came to an end for the Conners and 803 other Canadians who got their last cheques. Randy returned home from the hospital last week.

On April 14, Nova Scotia Health Minister George Moody said that the province would pick up where Ottawa left off and continue payments to the victims of HIV-infected transfusions. “It’s an issue of compassion,” said Moody, who acknowledged that he was breaking a 1990 agreement with the other nine provinces to forego such funding. Said Moody: “This was not a signed agreement”

Even so, Moody’s defection angered some provincial health ministers. Quebec is the only other province preparing a benefits program for people infected by contaminated blood. In Ontario, which has the highest number of patients infected by tainted blood, Health Minister Ruth Grier said that Moody’s action would probably force the other provinces to reconsider their positions. But the Nova Scotia decision delighted Barbara Webster, executive director of the Canadian Hemophilia Society in Manitoba, who confronted Health Minister Donald Orchard in the legislature. Orchard said that he was not prepared to follow Nova Scotia’s lead. “We just want compassion,” said Webster, “Stress is the worst thing for this disease.” Janet Conners knows about stress. And swollen lymph glands and nausea. “We don’t want to fight,” she said. ‘We just want to get on with our lives. We want to be able to cover basic costs like nursing and the hiñerais. Gus will need help after we’re gone.”

DIANE BRADY