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Arkansas-Canadian blood scandal
-- On May 19th, on the same night an office in Montreal was broken into and burglarized, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a clinic was fire bombed. How could seemingly separate incidents in Quebec and Arkansas be related? A message was delivered...the same message. Someone, somewhere is very concerned about an incredible scandal that most Americans know nothing about, but about which Canadians know only too well.
This is a story about tainted blood collected from Arkansas inmates and sold to make a profit. It's about hundreds of dead and dying Canadian hemophiliacs who used it, and a former governor who could be held legally responsible for it.
The blood trail starts at Cummins prison, near Grady, Arkansas. Cummins was one of several prisons in Arkansas in which blood products were collected from infected prisoners, sold on the spot market at a huge profit, and then shipped all around the world.
The federal courts once condemned the Arkansas prison system as "a dark and evil world completely alien to the free world." In 1978, its conditions were declared unconstitutional. Inmates used to be murdered inside Cummins prison; their bodies thrown into unmarked graves. Arkansas was one of the last prison systems to use slave labor. And it was the last prison system in the country to stop selling plasma donated by prisoners.
Michael Galster is a board certified prosthetist/orthotist. He's worked at Cummins prison from the 1970s until the present day. " I would try to look on their charts and see if they had had a blood test, because they'd have a Band- Aid at their elbow, and they'd tell me, 'No, they hadn't had a blood test; they'd just sold their blood the day before.'" Galster says some of his patients, who were also in the blood program, had no business giving blood. "Some of them were just too ill to walk, if they could walk in the first place. They'd come in in a wheelchair, they'd have distended abdomens, they'd be yellow, the whites of their eyes would be yellow -- all the obvious signs of hepatitic infections."
What Galster eventually uncovered about the prison plasma program was turned into a book: Blood Trail. It's not a book for everyone because it contains adult language and adult situations. Galster chose to write his account as a novel under a pen name, Michael Sullivan, because he was afraid for his family's safety. He would later find out he had reason to be. But back in the 1980s, Galster assumed prison officials must have known what they were doing: "I assumed that the people in the prison who were buying and selling this blood had some technique of cleaning it up, running it through a filter, or whatever..."
But they apparently did not.
John Schock was an inmate at Cummins in the '80s. He donated blood so that he could get a few dollars in paper scrip to spend at the prison canteen. But he paid dearly for it. It was through the blood program that he contracted the incurable Hepatitis C that wrecked his first liver. "I've never seen them tear open a needle, a clean needle, and stick it in you. " Schock said he saw plenty of sick inmates who were allowed to bleed, "[I saw] sick people going in and bleeding...coughing, hacking, choking, carrying on all over the place, you know, [and] all over everybody. [Some had] pneumonia or the flu or [I would] know that they are a homosexual, and they're in here bleeding, just like I am.
"Sometimes they would let you go two or three weeks and they'd be sticking you every time, testing you. Sometimes it'd be two or three months before they'd stick you and test you again." In other words, Schock confirmed that he and other inmates gave blood without being tested.
The plasma was spun out of the blood, which was then put back into the inmates. The bleeding program was a gold mine. Inmates only got about five dollars per liter, but with sometimes thousands of liters being collected each month with a market value of 50 dollars or more per liter, HMA should have netted more than at least a million dollars per year. There are suspicions it made several million a year.
The plasma was shipped out stamped ADC plasma. What may not have been clear to the buyers is that "ADC" stood for Arkansas Department of Corrections. The plasma was sold all around the world, but in the 1980s, much of it ended up in Canada, where a Toronto company used it to make a blood-clotting product called Factor 8, which was then distributed by the Canadian Red Cross and, finally, put into the blood streams of unsuspecting Canadians like James Krepner.
"When I was in my early twenties and feeling fine, I weighed about 180, 185 pounds, and now I'm about 105 pounds." Krepner, a Toronto attorney, is dying from Aids and Hepatitis C from Arkansas prison plasma. " I mean, initially, when I was infected, I thought, well, it's bad luck, you know, it's just bad luck. You got some factor that was contaminated. There was nothing they could have done about it and it was bad luck. But as I investigated I found that no, it's not just bad luck."
Arkansas prison blood created a health crisis in Canada and big problems for the Liberal party government of Jean Chretian. At least 42 thousand Canadians have been infected with Hepatitis C, and thousands more with HIV, thanks to poorly screened plasma from a number of sources. More than seven thousand Canadians are expected to die because of it, and an estimated one thousand of those have died or will die from Arkansas prison blood.
"It's very, very painful. It's not supposed to be like this, " says Denise Orieux. The Toronto mother has already lost one son to Arkansas blood, and another son is infected.
Michael McCarthy, faced with a slow death sentence from Arkansas prison blood, is known throughout Canada for leading the fight for justice for the victims: "My uncle's dead. I have another uncle sick. I'm sick with Hep C from this prison blood. Somebody in the States decided that for me, it was okay to get this stuff; that the money was important to provide prisoners with some cigarette money and millions of dollars left over to go into the coffers of the state of Arkansas."
The question is what did Bill Clinton know about the bleeding program? The program was operated by Health Management Associates, a private company. HMA, which provided all medical services for the prison system, was headed up by a close friend of then Governor Clinton. Reports obtained by CBN news as well as press clippings suggest Clinton was fully aware of the medical problems at the prison.
To say HMA had some problems would be putting it mildly. An outside audit found HMA had a large number of medical personnel who had had their licenses revoked, and that HMA had "consistently failed to live up to its contract."
In 1982 and '83, the FDA shut down the plasma program for shipping contaminated blood, poor storage of blood components, and over bleeding of inmates. But rather than terminate the blood program, the prison's board of directors voted to change the name and open under a different charter. So, whenever there was a problem with the FDA or other authority, Galster says the name was changed from ADC Plasma to ABC (Arkansas Blood Components) to Pine Bluff Biological. HMA was finally dissolved in 1986, but another business took over the blood program and even expanded it. Arkansas prison plasma was collected and sold until 1994. "This program was so successful, it made so much money for the prison and for the people that were running the show, says Galster, "that they went to the prison hospital, the diagnostic unit where I worked most of the time, and set up a bleeding center there so that inmates that were sick in the hospital could go down twice a week and sell their blood. It's just incredible."
And when HMA came under fire in the Arkansas press for its problems, Galster alleges that then Governor Clinton organized a payoff plan to a judge as a way of keeping HMA in business. The media scrutiny forced Clinton to authorize a state police investigation of HMA. And records from that investigation show that more than one corrections official had heard of the bribe.
The White House told Canadian TV that "it's impossible to say the president knew. The accusations that President Clinton knew the blood was tainted are wrong." Galster replies: "It would be very difficult for Bill Clinton to say that he did not know what was going on. He would have to convince me he was never governor of the state of Arkansas."
The White House did not respond to our questions about Bill Clinton's knowledge of the blood program. Perhaps it's not used to questions, since there's been a virtual media blackout on the story in the United States. When Galster brought tainted blood victims to the National Press Club in February, he was all but ignored by the media and Janet Reno's Justice Department.
But there is evidence that during President Clinton's first term, the White House was tracking the blood scandal very carefully. The man in charge of damage control is thought to be the late Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster.
White House Secretary Linda Tripp said that a few days after Foster's mysterious death in 1993, she took a phone call from someone who said Foster had been very concerned about a tainted blood issue. Tripp also said when she tried to enter data from the call into the computer of Vince Foster's secretary..."every time I entered a word that had to do with this particular issue, it would flash up either the word 'encrypted' or 'password required' or something to indicate the file was locked."
Galster, who knew Foster, believes the blood trail caught up with the Clinton's trusted friend and legal counsel in the summer of 1993. "Look at it this way: Canadians suddenly are infected and are dropping like flies. And they start their own little research and they backtrack this blood and find it comes from the state of Arkansas, and they find that the governor at that time that was tied up tightly in this medical system is now the president. They're going to call Foster."
And it was just as Canadian officials were launching a massive probe to uncover where the tainted blood came from that Foster was found dead.
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