Man Files Suit Against LifeSouth After Contracting HIV

LifeSouth Community Blood Centers is being sued by a man claiming he contracted human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV, after he received blood that was infected with the disease during a coronary bypass surgery, reports WSFA.

The report from WSFA says the contaminated blood was collected by LifeSouth in Dale County, Alabama, from a John Doe on October 14, 2010.  It was then dispensed to Baptist Medical Center on October 18, 2010. 

LifeSouth Community Blood Centers is a community blood supplier for local hospitals in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.  Each year, nearly five million Americans need a blood transfusion.  LifeSouth collects 305,000 blood donations a year and has 30 donor centers, 41 blood mobiles and over 1,000 blood drives a year.

Howard Midkiff received a transfusion of blood and blood components during a coronary bypass grafting, the report and a release from the man’s attorney says.

In May 2011, Baptist Medical Central was notified by LifeSouth that the blood products tested positive for HIV.  Midkiff was tested and diagnosed as being positive for HIV in May 2011.    Midkiff then filed a suit against LifeSouth.

The suit claims LifeSouth negligently provided blood infected with HIV, and negligently designed and/or failed to implement reasonable screening, handling and testing procedures that could have prevented the dissemination of blood contaminated with HIV. 

HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus.  Viruses such as HIV cannot grow or reproduce on their own, they need to infect the cells of a living organism in order to replicate.  The human immune system usually finds and kills viruses fairly quickly, but HIV attacks the immune system itself – the very thing that would normally get rid of a virus.  In 2010, around 2.7 million were infected with HIV.  It is estimated there are now 34 million people around the world who are living with HIV, including millions who have developed AIDS.

AIDS is caused by HIV damaging the immune system cells until the immune system can no longer fight off other infections that it would usually be able to prevent.  If left untreated, if takes around ten years on average for someone with HIV to develop AIDS.  However, this average is based on the person with HIV having a reasonable diet, and someone who is malnourished my well progress from HIV to AIDS more rapidly.

The FDA warned LifeSouth in January after October and November inspections showed improper practices at the LifeSouth blood processing center in Huntsville. The warning noted failure to properly label tainted blood, inadequate employee training and problems with blood testing equipment.

Kim Kinsell, general counsel for LifeSouth said that the FDA warning concerned an isolated incident at a Huntsville blood center and that there is little chance that facility had any connection to the blood sample in Montgomery. She also stated a lot of those problems were the result of “very difficult and unexpected circumstances” as the group worked to provide blood to victims in the aftermath of a wave of tornadoes.  All of the problems, according to Kinsell, were isolated to the Huntsville facility and that they have been corrected to the FDA’s satisfaction.

An attorney representing Midkiff, Mike Andrews, said the part of the FDA warning that he finds the most disturbing deals with the improper care and maintenance of blood testing equipment, which can lead to unreliable tests.  Andrews stated that the manufacturer requires they be stored and maintained at a certain temperature, and they weren’t even keeping up with the temperature at all and that’s a problem.

A federal investigator, according to the FDA letter, witnessed a LifeSouth technician failing to properly label and quarantine a blood unit that tested positive for antibodies.

Kinsell stated the FDA has found no problems aside from the ones at the Huntsville facility in all of the blood they have supplied to more than 110 hospitals in the Southeast.  Kinsell said that now her  big concern is that people will hear these things and won’t donate. She also said that the blood is safe and despite all of these things, there are people in hospitals right now who need blood.

LifeSouth has 30 days to file an official response to Midkiff’s lawsuit.