Dr Robert Massie: Untreated Pooled Plasma Enabled Unchecked Virus Transmission

January 5, 2021

Decades ago, companies refused to heat-treat their blood products, which resulted in pooled plasma, among others, enabling many viruses to be transmitted, noted Robert K. Massie Jr, PhD, MA, of the Society for Progress.

Decades ago, companies refused to heat-treat their blood products, which resulted in pooled plasma, among others, enabling many viruses to be transmitted, noted Robert K. Massie Jr, PhD, MA, of the Society for Progress, who has also been an Episcopal minister; a professor at Harvard Divinity School; a nonprofit CEO, specializing in environmental questions; the author of 3 books; and a former Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts. Massie was born with severe factor VIII hemophilia in August 1956, later contracting HIV in 1978, as well as hepatitis C.

Transcript

How are hemophilia, HIV, and hepatitis C intertwined as blood-borne diseases?

Well, from a purely medical standpoint, severe hemophilia was treated, when I was younger, with various blood products. Originally with fresh frozen plasma, then with a substance known as cryoprecipitate, which was a version of fresh frozen plasma that was high in factor VIII. Then with various freeze-dried products, concentrated products, which I started taking in 1968. These freeze-dried products were wonderfully convenient and liberated me to do many things. But unfortunately, the companies that made them chose not to heat-treat them, and as a result, a great many viruses were transmitted through these factors that were made from pooled plasma.

So you only needed a small number of infected people, I think perhaps even just 1, to end up with a batch that was contaminated. So I was exposed to HIV very early on, before anyone even knew it existed. And [it] turned out that I had a remarkable and very rare immunity to HIV, which has now been studied in great depth. And so I never contracted AIDS. It was almost 30 years before I actually took any medication for HIV. However, my immune system did not protect me from hepatitis C, from HCV.

So when I was about 46, in 2003, I discovered that I had severe liver cirrhosis and I was slowly dying of liver disease. And so I went through a period of 6 or 7 years, eventually got a liver transplant—an extraordinary transplant called the domino transplant—where I got the liver of someone who had a condition that would not affect me and she got a liver from someone else. So, the 2 of us were cured in back-to-back [operations], or I think we're actually across the hall from each other at Emory Hospital. That cured my hemophilia.

So here I am today with zero viral load for HIV, suppressed by antiretroviral drugs. I have cleared the hepatitis C virus, thank goodness, before the existence of the various medications that exist today. And I no longer have hemophilia. But I have a great deal of joint damage, and so I have trouble walking and other things.

So they're all connected in the sense that it started with hemophilia and then 2 blood-borne viruses that did a great deal of damage to my body and certainly slowed me down in certain parts of my life.