4. A History Ignored
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32 4 A History Ignored By the fall of 1991, Weinberg had three hemophilia-related clients. After Andrea Johnson came Ron Niederman, a married father of two sons. Niederman owned an electronics repair shop in Milltown, not far from Weinberg’s office. He had suffered the debilitating effects of severe hemophilia , including frequent bleeding in his knee and elbow joints and the resultant arthritis, and walked with a limp common to hemophiliacs of his generation. When the clotting drugs had become available, Niederman, like Clyde Johnson, had embraced them with enthusiasm. But as the risks became more apparent, Niederman got involved with the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey. Unlike Andrea Johnson, Ron Niederman was openly angry. He had been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and some other viruses. “The question I have is whether you think this case can be won,” he asked Weinberg. “I do,” Weinberg replied. “I can’t guarantee a result. But I think the companies could and should have done better, and that you should not be HIV-positive. That’s the bottom line.” Niederman was still working every day in his repair shop, providing for his family, sharing a life with his wife and sons. As they talked, Weinberg began to understand that Niederman’s perspective on life was typical of many people with hemophilia. When you’re born with a serious genetic disorder, you can either give in and seek pity or deal with it and A HISTORY IGNORED 33 live as normal a life as possible. Ron Niederman had chosen the latter course. He thought that his hepatitis infection might have been unavoidable, but he could not accept what he saw as the industry’s delay in responding. The third client was Sallie Weiss, who had survived her husband, Marty, and was raising their son alone. Marty Weiss was born and died within a month of Clyde Johnson. Sallie had saved folders full of her husband ’s medical information. Marty had become quite ill in 1987, two years before his death, and as Weinberg went through Sallie’s materials, he could see that she and Marty had been on a desperate search for answers. She, too, had turned to the Hemophilia Association of New Jersey for help. HANJ was a refuge, and Weinberg made a mental note to speak with someone there. Clearly, there were going to be many other affected families. Weinberg was beginning to wonder if he could handle these cases along with his non-hemophilia clients. He had begun to accept the fact that the hemophilia litigation would require far more resources. From the end of 1991 on, most of his new clients were people with hemophilia or their survivors. He wasn’t doing as many of the little things it took to generate other business. As Weinberg saw it, there were two primary questions he needed to answer. First, why did the manufacturers not cleanse their clotting drugs until after HIV came along? Second, why did the government permit the products to be sold? Weinberg had never taken a single science class during his four years at Rutgers, but as a lawyer he had learned how to do basic library research. That experience guided him as he studied hemophilia, blood-borne illnesses , and HIV. For the first year of the case, he visited libraries nearly every week, spending long hours poring through medical journals, books, and lay magazines as well as Medline, the database of the National Library of Medicine. In this way, time consuming as it was, he began to accumulate a substantial collection of medical literature, which he indexed and highlighted . He was learning the science, forming the basis of legal arguments, and identifying potential experts who could testify in his cases. BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS 34 One of his first lessons was that, long before HIV entered the blood supply, blood products were known to pose a serious risk of hepatitis. This was important because it meant that even before there was a bloodproducts industry, scientists had known of the risks of pooling large numbers of plasma units. Although research began much earlier, the for-profit blood business has its modern roots in World War II. It was an amazing, historic achievement by scientists from academia, business, and government. Working together, they learned how to use blood and its components, particularly plasma and a purified plasma protein called albumin, to save thousands of wounded soldiers suffering from shock and blood loss...