Sharron Davies says tragic mum ‘should still be here’ after hepatitis C trauma

By | February 25, 2020

Behind Sharron Davies’ ready smile there is a sadness. The former Olympic swimmer is still grieving for her beloved mother Sheila, who she lost to liver cancer almost three years ago.

“Mum was 80 when she died and she had a long and happy life,” says Sharron, 57, who won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in 1978 and a silver for the 400m medley at the 1980 ­Olympics.

“But she could have lived longer – and her health should ­definitely have been better.”

In her late 40s, Sheila, a former civil servant, contracted hepatitis C during an operation for gallstones. The condition damaged her liver to such a degree that she developed liver cancer as a direct result.

Sadly, she was one of around 7,500 people to contract a life-threatening illness through contaminated blood or blood ­products used by the NHS in the 1970s and 80s. So far, around 3,000 of those affected have died.

Sharon with her beloved late mum Sheila

It is estimated that 3,891 British patients were infected with hepatitis C in this way. Others contracted hepatitis B and HIV from the blood and, in the case of haemophiliacs, they were often exposed to more than one of these conditions.

The unscreened blood used by the NHS at this time came from dubious sources such as the US prison ­population. An ongoing government investigation, the Infected Blood Inquiry, is now trying to ­determine the scale of the damage.

“It’s shocking really that this could have happened, and I can understand why so many families who lost loved ones are
distraught,” says Sharron.

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Like many people with hepatitis C, Sheila did not know she had the condition for six or seven years after she was infected. “I remember her having all sorts of strange aches and pains and generally just not feeling herself,” recalls Sharron. “It took a while to get an answer.”

Sharron Davies in action in the pool

A blood test eventually revealed the condition, a type of viral ­hepatitis, and a doctor told her she’d undoubtedly contracted the ­infection during the surgery she’d had for gallstones.

Viral hepatitis affects the liver by causing the immune system to start attacking liver cells. This results in slow but progressive scarring that can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C and B are blood borne infections, while the latter can be passed on through sex too.

“Mum never drank or smoked, was slim, exercised regularly and barely travelled as she was at her happiest at home in Plymouth,” says Sharron. “It does seem very unfair.”

Sheila saw a specialist regularly and was given medication to slow down the virus – she wouldn’t let her illness hold her back.

Sharron is still dealing with her grief

“It’s important to remember that the Infected Blood Inquiry is not just a historical exercise,” stresses Rachel Halford, chief executive of the ­Hepatitis C Trust, a charity for people affected by the condition.

“People are continuing to die because of the consequences of infected blood. If you think you had a blood transfusion or received blood products before 1992, please do ask your GP for a test.”

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The Hepatitis C Trust recently revealed that between 20-30% of people with chronic hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis within 20 years, and around 600 people a year go on to develop liver cancer.

Indeed, many of Sheila’s friends didn’t even know she had a health condition and she chose to carry on working until she was 70 because she loved her job so much. In some ways, Sharron believes her mother was fortunate to at least get a diagnosis, which probably bought her time as the medication she was on slowed down the liver damage.

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Sharron admits to crying when Sheila finally decided not to have further treatment. “She’d been ill for three years and she just wanted to enjoy the time she had left. Three months later, mum died peacefully with her family around her.

“I still miss her so much,” adds the mum of three. “Of course, I try to be philosophical. Mum got to 80 and
in many ways she was one of the lucky ones, as she got a diagnosis and had treatment to stall any damage to her body.

“But I can’t help thinking that she could still be here – and I don’t think that thought will ever go away.”

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Mirror – Health