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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”



 

    

Victims tell of tears, pain from hepatitis

2003-12-20
By Jane Glenn Cannon
The Oklahoman

NORMAN -- Too weak to stand, Pamela Wallace asked if she could sit to address the court. Once a faceless, nameless plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, Wallace chose Friday to identify herself, by name and profession, by offering personal details and private longings, and by detailing, once and for all, what she has lost.
"I had a life," she told District Judge William Hetherington. "Now, I just exist." Wallace is one of 65 people infected with hepatitis C because a nurse
anesthetist reused needles and syringes at a pain management clinic at Norman
Regional Hospital and two Oklahoma City clinics between May 1999 and August 2002.
At Friday's hearing, Hetherington approved a $25 million settlement between
the plaintiffs and the hospital, the pain management clinics, Dr. Jerry Lewis
and nurse anesthetist James Hill, pronouncing the settlement legally sound,
fair "and as good as it is going to get."
"I am convinced," the judge said, "that all the money is on the table."
Plaintiffs who disagree have 30 days to file an appeal, he said. After that,
checks could be mailed to class-action participants within 15 days.
A cultural anthropologist, Wallace went on disability last August,
relinquishing her job as a curator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
"I am one who has given you one of the state's premier institutions," she
said proudly.
Bedridden for the past four months, the Norman resident found the strength,
fueled by anger, to get herself to the Cleveland County courthouse for a
settlement hearing in a case that also involves 77 people infected with hepatitis
and at least 754 more people exposed to the virus but not infected.
The $300,000-plus that has been promised to Wallace won't give her life back,
she said. It won't even cover the cost of her treatment or support her family
after she's gone.

  


Carla Gatewood testified she contracted hepatitis C at the clinic where she
also worked as a nurse.
With a husband who is disabled and two young sons, Gatewood said, she was the
family breadwinner until becoming ill.
"I think this hearing is good, because everybody can see and know that we are
for real."
Overcome by emotion, Gatewood stood silent at the podium, finally, crying and
struggling to regain her composure so she could continue.
Hetherington assured her: "Your tears express it best."
Hepatitis C victim Robert Hall expressed his outrage by displaying a bottle
with used needles while he talked.
"Those are just half of the needles I've had stuck in me," he said.
Hall said he opposed the settlement.
"If this settlement truly is about fairness, then it falls short," he said.
"Is it fair that the local community hospital -- which we trusted -- had no
proper institutional control so that this could happen?
"Is it fair that this same institution made a conscious decision to maintain
a grossly inadequate insurance?"
In seeking treatment for her hepatitis C through chemotherapy, Melinda Von
Holt testified, she lost her hair, broke out in open sores, lives in constant
pain "and at times I've been not sure I would live and not sure I wanted to."
Von Holt and Hall were especially critical of $750,000 of the settlement
money going to six attorneys who formed a class-action coordinating team between

  


the court, a mediator and individual clients' attorneys. They should forfeit
the class-action fee, they said.
Hetherington, however, defended the attorneys, saying he appointed them, took
them away from their private practice for 15 months and ordered them to do
"hours upon hours of work," including medical research, financial analysis and a
thorough victim-identification process.
While Wallace also asked that the court reconsider the amount of the
attorneys' fees, that was not her main reason for speaking out, she said.
"Consider the number of lives affected, the loss of those lives to families
and to the community," she said.
"I was at the top of my field. Now I can't work."
But most of all, she added, "I can't clean my house, I can't wash my dog. I
can't even do the drudgery of life, and I miss it."