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Victims tell of tears, pain from hepatitis
By Jane Glenn Cannon
NORMAN -- Too weak to stand, Pamela Wallace asked if she could sit to
Once a faceless, nameless plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, Wallace
Friday to identify herself, by name and profession, by offering personal
details and private longings, and by detailing, once and for all, what
"I had a life," she told District Judge William Hetherington. "Now, I
Wallace is one of 65 people infected with hepatitis C because a nurse
anesthetist reused needles and syringes at a pain management clinic at
Regional Hospital and two Oklahoma City clinics between May 1999 and
At Friday's hearing, Hetherington approved a $25 million settlement
the plaintiffs and the hospital, the pain management clinics, Dr. Jerry
and nurse anesthetist James Hill, pronouncing the settlement legally
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
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
"I am one who has given you one of the state's premier institutions,"
Bedridden for the past four months, the Norman resident found the
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
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
she said. It won't even cover the cost of her treatment or support her
after she's gone.
Carla Gatewood testified she contracted hepatitis C at the clinic where
also worked as a nurse.
With a husband who is disabled and two young sons, Gatewood said, she
family breadwinner until becoming ill.
"I think this hearing is good, because everybody can see and know that
Overcome by emotion, Gatewood stood silent at the podium, finally,
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
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
"Is it fair that the local community hospital -- which we trusted -- had
proper institutional control so that this could happen?
"Is it fair that this same institution made a conscious decision to
a grossly inadequate insurance?"
In seeking treatment for her hepatitis C through chemotherapy, Melinda
Holt testified, she lost her hair, broke out in open sores, lives in
pain "and at times I've been not sure I would live and not sure I wanted
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
the court, a mediator and individual clients' attorneys. They should
the class-action fee, they said.
Hetherington, however, defended the attorneys, saying he appointed them,
them away from their private practice for 15 months and ordered them to
"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
"Consider the number of lives affected, the loss of those lives to
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
can't even do the drudgery of life, and I miss it."