Osama bin Laden, architect of the worst attack on American soil and the flash point for the war on terror, is dead. The symbolic significance for this nation is profound and while this war continues to be fought, for some the killing of Bin Laden has brought closure to this tragic moment in our history. The victims of 9/11 who lost family members and the people who died that day have been honored and remembered with commemorative events and speeches and just last week President Obama visited “ground zero” to give recognition to these truly deserving victims.
But what’s lost is that this is not the first time the citizens of this country have been attacked and ironically from an enemy within our borders instead of a foreign intruder.
On June 5, 1981, the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in a person with hemophilia. For the blood disorder community this was the beginning of a horrific nightmare for the patients and their families that continues to this day. For the hemophilia community who numbered 20,000 in the 1980s, over half—10,000—were killed by AIDS and the co-infection Hepatitis C, and many more were infected with these insidious diseases that they must battle every day for the rest of their lives.
How could this happen? And who was the perpetrator of this despicable act?
Hemophilia is a clotting disorder that one out of every 5,000 males are born with in this country. People with this disease are missing a “key protein” that contributes to the clotting of blood when the body sustains trauma. This protein or factor, called factor VIII, is produced in the liver. Only a liver transplant can cure this disease.
In the late 1960s a new medication produced from human blood donation was developed: When injected, it stopped bleeding for hemorrhages that are life-threatening and destructive to organs and joints of the hemophiliac. It was a miracle drug that was to become a vicious killer when power and greed were allowed to run rampant and unchecked.
The blood product that was supposed to give all of us a better life was sabotaged by the worst natures of executives at the pharmaceutical companies who produced this drug. Companies, most notably Baxter Hyland and Bayer, accepted blood taken from people in prison and other highly questionable sources, pooled it so that many donors would be in the same batch, and produced Factorate for people with hemophilia.
This tainted product (which was monopolized by the few drug companies who manufactured it) was then marketed with the intent of convincing patients it was safe and could be used often, even prophylacticly. It became over time not only the most effective product in controlling bleeding but basically the only medication any hemophiliac in this country could use.
As the community continued to infuse this product through its veins, it was playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette.
On June 5, 1981 the War on Blood had begun. Today, 30 years later, we as a community continue to bury our dead and pick up our wounded, but, sadly, we do it alone. Despite numerous efforts to bring this national tragedy to light, we cannot awaken a sleeping nation to the carnage left by this blood terrorist action against these Americans. We do not have a national memorial, and there has not been one American President in this country willing to give comfort to the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who lost loved ones.
What we do have is an open wound with no closure and a bleeding inhumanity that can and will happen again if all of us do not remain vigilant.
Two days in American history: 9/11/2001 and 6/5/1981. But today only one is encouraged to remember, and one has been terribly forgotten.
Author’s note: As this story was written this past Mother’s Day, I dedicate it to all the mothers who lost sons with hemophilia to AIDS or Hepatitis C, including Mrs. Mary Lou Murphy and Mrs. Terry MacNeil, who between them lost three sons to the War on Blood.