Death 'linked to hormone treatment': Inquest considers whether engineer contracted rare brain disease from human gland extracts, given to help him grow. Malcolm Pithers reports

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The Independent Online
A ROYAL NAVY engineer who underwent hormone treatment as a child to help him grow died a 'terrible' death after contracting a disease in a million which destroyed his brain, an inquest jury was told yesterday.

Patrick Baldwin, 29, died in December last year after losing the use of his limbs and all control of his nervous system. An inquest into his death resumed in Lincoln Castle yesterday, when evidence was given about how National Health Service hormone treatment has now been changed and how batches of human hormones might well have been contaminated.

The coroner, Nigel Chapman, said he would like to know whether, when the rules governing hormonal treatment were changed, all human glands in storage had in fact been disposed of. It may well be that the hormones Mr Baldwin, of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, received as a child between 1977 and 1980 were contaminated. A special unit in Edinburgh is now monitoring all similar cases.

The outcome of the inquest will have enormous significance for other families whose children - said to number around 1,900 - have undergone similar hormone growth treatment under the NHS. Some 50 families have been granted legal aid and are shortly to start proceedings against the Department of Health for medical negligence.

Yesterday the inquest heard evidence from expert neurologists about Mr Baldwin's terminal illness, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD. A jury of five women and three men will decide today whether the disease was induced or encouraged by the hormone treatment Mr Baldwin received as a child. The therapy used for him involved an extract taken from human pituitary glands.

The jury heard evidence yesterday about how human glands had in the past been removed from bodies at post-mortem and how others had then become infected with CJD. Professor Michael Preece, a paediatric specialist from the Institute of Child Health of the University of London, said that since 1985 a synthetic process had been used for the hormonal treatment. Before that the medical profession had been dependent on products from human glands. In 1985 the Government and the medical profession in the United States discontinued the use of human growth hormones. Professor Preece said that the number of deaths world-wide through CJD included 10 in the UK, 11 in the US and 25 in France. Stephen Irwin, the solicitor representing the Baldwin family, asked Professor Preece about the link between growth hormones and CJD. Professor Preece said the evidence was 'inescapable'. He said that growth hormones which were contaminated with transmissible agents had caused the disease.

The jury also heard yesterday that Mr Baldwin had been small as a child and had not gained weight. Dr Andrew Proctor from Gainsborough, a general practitioner, said he knew Mr Baldwin had received hormone treatment between October 1977 and September 1980. The treatment had caused Mr Baldwin who was then 13 to 'shoot up'. After treatment he had grown at the rate of one inch per month. In February 1992 however Mr Baldwin had been discharged from the Royal Navy after it was discovered he had contracted CJD. He died at home on 14 December the same year. The inquest concludes today.

(Photograph omitted)

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