Letters to the editor

Red Cross “savings” far too costly

On May 5, 1989, while hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer, I was given a transfusion of blood infected with hepatitis C virus. The Red Cross did not have a test for HCV until a year or so later, so a lot of HCV-contaminated blood was distributed, though they knew, possibly as early as 1975, there was a problem in the blood supply. Not until I donated blood in the spring of 1995 did the Red Cross notify me that I had been infected with HCV.

In an article posted Nov. 9, 2003, The Kansas City Star documented the efforts in January 1981 of some Red Cross doctors to start using a simple liver-enzyme test (ALT) to screen out at least some of the contaminated blood. The ALT test would miss people newly infected with HCV, and it would reject high ALT values due to other liver diseases — but it would reject at least some of the HCV-infected blood.

But the ALT test recommendation was dismissed, not — it would seem — because it was less than 100 percent effective, but because: (1) the Red Cross considered the cost for the test ($2.77 in 1981) to be too high; and, (2) the cost of replacing the rejected blood was even more prohibitive. So the Red Cross, because of its cost concerns, elected to continue to knowingly distribute infected blood into the nation’s blood supply.

Though imperfect, the ALT test would have screened out at least some of the HCV-contaminated blood, perhaps that which I and many others received. I am currently undergoing 48 weeks of chemotherapy, plus 24 weeks of follow-up, for my hepatitis C. Because I was over 40 when first infected, and because I have the most difficult-to-treat strain (genotype 1), my expected response to the interferon therapy is only about 30 percent at best, possibly much less, even zero. Therefore, if I am a non-responder and unless something else kills me first, I can now look forward to dying from cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.

Have you ever known anyone who died this way? It is not pleasant.

Am I a fan of the American Red Cross? What do you think?

— Bob Gunn
Black Mountain

[Editor’s note: Debbie Estes, Communications and Public Relations Director of the Carolinas Blood Services Region for the American Red Cross, offers the following response:

The top priority of the American Red Cross is to provide the safest possible blood supply for patients who need blood. Today’s medical knowledge, research and capabilities far surpass those of 15, 10 or even five years ago. Today, donated blood is sent to one of the Red Cross’s state-of-the-art testing laboratories, where it undergoes at least nine tests for such diseases as HIV and hepatitis. In recent years, the Red Cross has added a new technology called nucleic acid testing (NAT). This new test can detect genetic material of hepatitis C and HIV potentially faster and more accurately than current tests, which react to antibodies for those diseases. The Red Cross continues to investigate new technologies which can further protect our nation’s blood supply. For more information on the safety of the blood supply visit: www.bloodsafety.org or www.redcross.org.]

Gender equality should take a rest

I thought it might be a good time to get, refreshingly, away from all the political banter for a change.

Steve Shanafelt’s “The words of the prophets are written on the restroom walls” [Clean Plate Club, July 14] encompasses only half of the story. The other half would be the women’s comfort stations. There are surely prognosticators and poets on the “softer” side of the gender camp.

Steve could have gone in incognito, in “drag,” and come away with total satisfaction in getting the whole story.

— Fuller Moore
Mountain Home

[Editor’s note: Writer Steve Shanafelt offers the following reply:

The ladies room?! Gosh, is nothing sacred anymore?!

Actually, Mr. Moore makes a good point about the accidental gender bias of the article. In fact, I did visit the women’s restroom at Beanstreets while chaperoned by one of the female employees. The walls of that particular water closet are beautifully muraled, and truly a testament to the creativity of the women who frequent that establishment (as well as the bladder-boiling power of coffee, which allowed them to spend the requisite time on the loo to be so creative). In the end, however, I opted to leave this section out, as I already felt weird enough about the copious amount of time I spent writing in my gender-correct flush-station. No slight or insult intended to any double-x bearing.]

War on drugs takes over the friendly skies

I am infuriated, but not surprised, at the lack of respect and sensitivity of our so-called law enforcement for its citizens.

Early in July, I was outside picking berries with my daughter when our airspace was invaded by what appeared to be a military (Black Hawk) helicopter. This incredibly loud and foreboding war machine flew so low that I was astounded, and threw my arms up in a gesture of “What are you doing? Can’t you see there’s a small child here? You’re frightening us!”

The helicopter continued down the cove, then turned back repeatedly, until finally it flew in a continuous circle around and around our house. Often, it was so close I thought it would surely land in the yard.

I wanted to help. I called the Citizens Hotline, which connected me to Sen. John Edwards’ office in Raleigh. Clueless, they directed me to his Charlotte branch, who, in turn, suggested that I call the local sheriff’s department, which had me call the Civil Air Patrol. No answer there. Meanwhile, the aircraft circled above like a vulture over a trapped animal. So loud it was that, at times, we had difficulty hearing each other inside the house.

Exasperated, I took my daughter and drove away, halfway expecting to be pursued, like O.J. Indeed, in my mind, the only thing that might justify such severe surveillance is a murderer on the loose. I learned from neighbors that the flying continued in our cove for over two hours; that their homes and land were also targeted; and that many of them were forced to flee as well, or face insanity.

Evidently, a small patch of marijuana was found on a neighbor’s land up the mountain. I wonder, was this enough to traumatize this entire farm community? Is any amount enough to justify such flagrant disregard for our constitutional rights to peace and privacy? I continued making calls, hoping for answers or at least some accountability. I even called the FBI, who finally gave me the number of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

I thought for a minute, “The DEA; the monster. Am I ready to take on the monster?” I think so. Because I am innocent and still free (though a lot less free than four years ago), I must stand up to the monster and say, “This is not OK! I will not be treated like a criminal when I am not one, and how dare you terrorize us in the sanctity of our home?” Do we as taxpayers employ our law enforcement to serve and protect us, or to intimidate and humiliate us?

I realize that taking on the DEA is like grabbing the tail of a viper. It is the ultimate manifestation of Big Brother. But fear feeds it, and apathy nurtures it. The “war on drugs” is nothing less than a war on you and me. We should recognize it as such and stand together in opposition and outrage.

— Eva Scruggs
Leicester

Fighting fire with fire is too polluting

I recently read an article in the Xpress about how most of the pollution generated in these mountains stays in these mountains.

I’ve noticed something weird here in Buncombe County and the city of Asheville about that very issue. I know our firefighters need practice in saving burning buildings and saving people’s lives, but at what cost to the children, older people and others that have asthma and other respiratory problems here in the area?

In the last two years, I have seen Buncombe County and Asheville burning down houses, two on Hendersonville Road (across from Dairy Queen), two on Fairview Road (at the entrance to the new supercenter site), one on Sweeten Creek Road (B.B. Barnes), and today, July 15, in West Asheville. These are just the ones I’ve seen.

The black soot and smoke from asphalt shingles and who-knows-what other toxic materials that are located in these houses can be seen for miles. Maybe in the grand scale of things, this might not add much pollution to the air, but can we tolerate even a small increase in the amount of pollution that these fires (acts of training) add to the power plant emissions and auto emissions that get trapped here in our beautiful mountains?

Half the time, the mountains are in a manmade haze. Do we want to obscure the views even more? Less views equal less tourist dollars. Shouldn’t Buncombe County and Asheville be working for the good of our air quality? Shouldn’t we ban all open burning in the county? Asheville and surrounding fire departments, what are you doing?

In Springfield, Mo., my last residence before Asheville, they built three-story fire towers with stairs and rooms. They put in natural gas lines which could be lit to produce fire. Granted, not much smoke, but [this] still served for the training needed by the firefighters.

Asheville and Buncombe County, can’t you come up with a better way to train than “burning down the house”?

— Corey Flail
Weaverville

Kerry right for Asheville, wrong for America

John Kerry for America, not!

John Kerry has voted in the most liberal ways most of his career — probably the correct votes for Asheville, since it is one of the most liberal cities east of the Mississippi. John Kerry has voted against parental notification of abortions for teens, as well as voting to allow schools to distribute the morning-after pill without parental notification. These votes don’t show me that he is right for America. They show me that John Kerry just wants to take parental rights and throw them out the window.

If John Kerry is for America, why did he miss a vote on a bill that would decrease health-care costs by decreasing the amount of frivolous malpractice suits against doctors? Why did John Kerry miss a vote to fund our troops and vote against increasing combat pay? However, John Kerry did make it to vote against the Laci Peterson law which would protect pregnant women against violence.

John Kerry isn’t right for America. John Kerry is right for the old communistic Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

— Jason Hamlin
Asheville

Faulty intelligence or no, U.S. attack on Iraq was legitimate

The recent report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee has caused quite a buzz in the media. The report is being treated as proof that America went to war in Iraq based on questionable intelligence. As a politically-minded college student, I would like to remind the readers that we did not go to war based on the intelligence in question. The war was caused by Saddam’s refusal to account for the weapons of mass destruction that the U.N. weapons inspectors found in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

The United Nations passed [Security Council] Resolution 1441 in October of 2002, warning Saddam that he would face “severe consequences” if he did not meet the deadline determined by the multilateral U.N. Security Council. The deadline came and went, and the United States acted in accordance with Resolution 1441…. The war was not fought over shady accounts of “possible” WMDs, as alleged by the CIA, but over weapons that were well documented by both U.S. and U.N. inspectors after the first Gulf War. The new Senate report does not de-legitimize the war in Iraq at all.

— Paul Stern
Tuckasegee

Law aside, what do you believe?

John Kerry now claims that he believes life begins at conception. The only reason he goes along with abortion is because it is the law. My problem with that argument is that a lot of bad things were once law, such as segregation by the “separate but equal” decision. That decision was later overturned.

Just because something is law now doesn’t mean it is correct. Opinions change, and people reevaluate their decisions. Even the person that started the Roe vs. Wade decision now wants it overturned. Slavery was once okay, but I doubt you’ll find very many people that will argue it should still be law. People need to stop hiding behind the Supreme Court and come to a conclusion of their own.

— Kate Shuping
Spartanburg, S.C.

The not-so-noble reasons behind the war on drugs

I’m writing about Michael Harney’s thoughtful op-ed, “Let’s get real” [Commentary, June 30].

We could continue to do what we have been doing regarding drugs — throw another trillion dollars down the drug-war rat hole. And we could lock up another million, or two million or 10 million, hoping to nullify the immutable law of supply and demand. And we could continue to keep certain (politically selected) drugs illegal so that they continue to be untaxed, unregulated, controlled by criminal gangs, and financially supportive of our enemies.

Of course, many currently employed in law enforcement are opposed to legalizing any now-illegal drugs. That’s because if all types of drugs were legal, we would need far fewer law enforcement personnel, far fewer prison guards and no prison builders. Thus, many now employed in law enforcement or the prison industry would be looking for a job or washing cars for a living. However, those opposed to legalizing recreational drugs because it would affect their livelihood will not [admit why]. Instead, they cite noble reasons like protecting the children.

As if our current policies are protecting children from drugs.

— Kirk Muse
Mesa, Ariz.

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