There is no way CMMC could have known the blood was bad, a hospital spokesman says.

LEWISTON – Raymond Berube survived a major car accident 16 years ago. He survived six months in a coma and injuries so severe they required a blood transfusion at Central Maine Medical Center.

He is not sure he’ll survive the hepatitis C that he says the hospital gave him.

“I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “But it’s not fair to be ahead of my time.”

Carrying colorful homemade picket signs, Berube paced in front of Central Maine Medical Center Thursday morning to protest what he called “CMMC mistakes.”

The hospital gave him a transfusion in 1988 with blood that may have been tainted with hepatitis C, a chronic disease that causes liver damage. The hospital has admitted that some patients may have contracted hepatitis C from blood transfusions, but a spokesman said Thursday he was unsure whether Berube was one of those who were infected.

Berube claims the hospital refuses to take responsibility, and has charged Medicaid $60,000 to treat him.

“I’d like to see something happen,” Berube said Thursday, pausing to rest in front of the big brick hospital.

On a Sunday afternoon in January 1988, the car Berube was riding in had mechanical problems and crashed into another car on Route 4 in Auburn. Three people were killed and Berube, a passenger in the back seat, was transported to CMMC.

The accident left Berube, then 25, in a coma and required a blood transfusion, he said. It took him years to fully recover.

By the mid-1990s, Berube started to feel tired. As the years passed, his fatigue got worse. Then his side hurt. He started vomiting.

He thought he had a gall bladder problem.

“Then that letter came,” he said.

Tainted blood

In March 2000, Central Maine Clinical Associates, a medical practice affiliated with Central Maine Medical Center, sent Berube a one-page letter telling him the blood he received may have been tainted with hepatitis C. He had five chances in 100 of getting the disease.

After years of being sick, Berube said, “It started making sense to me.”

He tested positive for hepatitis C.

Berube, a 42-year-old Oxford resident, has spent the past year taking Interferon, a cancer drug routinely given to people with hepatitis C. He said the medication left him tired and nauseous, gave him mood swings and has caused him to lose his hair. He called it “a little bit of hell.”

Doctors have told Berube the disease is in remission, he said, but that there is no cure.

“They’re telling me this doesn’t go away,” he said. “I’ve got a family, two little girls. I’ve got to think of them.”

Berube has hired a lawyer and says he plans to sue the hospital for giving him the disease that has devastated his life. On Thursday, he picketed the hospital to let people know what happened and to express his anger.

Privacy issue

Citing federal privacy laws, hospital spokesman Randy Dustin said he could not comment on the specifics of Berube’s case. But he said the hospital sent out 14 letters in 2000 to notify patients that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C. One person tested positive.

“That’s not to minimize it,” he said. “The hospital is very sympathetic to these types of issues. We’re here to keep people well.”

Dustin said there was no way for the hospital or the American Red Cross, which provided the blood, to know in 1988 that the transfusion was tainted. A test for hepatitis C wasn’t available until 1992.

Besides that, he said, the hospital isn’t sure whether Berube got hepatitis from the blood he received in 1988. And, Dustin said, the hospital never said it would provide treatment at no cost.

“I don’t know where the presumption came from that we gave it to him. Or where the presumption came from that the treatment should be free,” Dustin said. “Somebody has to pay for it somewhere.”

Berube said he will picket the hospital with friends and family today. He plans to continue his protests through next week.

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