Rogers, Dave, and Nicole Baer, “Blood transfusion may have led to teacher’s death,” The Ottawa Citizen, Friday, June 15, 1990, p. B5:

Blood transfusions in Ottawa may have led to the death of a Carleton University economics professor in Singapore June 9.

randy-geehanRandall Geehan, 45, became ill May 31 while on contract work in Indonesia, and was later diagnosed in Singapore as having developed hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C, caused by a virus, is a rare liver inflammation that can afflict people who have had blood transfusions. It is rarely fatal, experts say.

By coincidence, the Canadian Red Cross Society hopes to have a new screening test in place within a month to weed out blood contaminated with hepatitis C.

Geehan’s wife, Elizabeth Anne, said Thursday her husband received transfusions at an Ottawa hospital because of chronic anemia. The last was April 19. She refused to name the hospital.

“He had been immunized against another form of hepatitis … but we had never heard of hepatitis C,” Geehan said.

But Dr. Wendell Rosse, a North Carolina blood specialist who Geehan visited for treatment of his anemia, said he can’t be sure his patient actually died of hepatitis C.

It is doubtful Singapore doctors would have a test to confirm the presence of the C virus, Rosse said.

Rosse said Geehan had suffered for the past six to seven years from a rare disorder called “paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria,” caused by abnormal bone marrow. The disease damages red blood cells, requiring frequent blood transfusions.

But Rosse said PNH also damages the immune system and the body’s capacity to fight off disease. As a result, hepatitis that he might otherwise have survived could have been deadly.

Dr. Peter Gill, director of the Red Cross’s national reference laboratory, said that although all donated blood will soon be screened for hepatitis C, “You cannot ever say that the (donated) blood is perfectly safe.”

Dr. Victor Feinman, a liver expert at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said preliminary results of a huge study he is conducting suggests even without the test, only about three per cent of blood transfusion recipients developed hepatitis C.

Feinman also said only about one in 1,000 people who contract hepatitis C develops a dramatic, acute case.

John Joisce, who worked with Geehan when he did contract work at Statistics Canada, said former colleagues have established a scholarship in Geehan’s name for fourth-year and graduate economics students.

Geehan is survived by his wife, children, Alison, 16, and Christopher, 7, of Ottawa, parents, Grace and Oswald, of Calgary, a brother Tom, of North Vancouver, and a sister, Valerie, of Red Deer, Alta.

He was cremated in Singapore. A memorial service was to be held today at Carleton.