Grief-stricken husband calls for CJD action

Grief-stricken husband calls for CJD action

June 18, 2001 The Scotsman by Ian Mckerron

THE grieving husband of a young teacher who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease just four months after giving birth to their first child yesterday made a plea for more research into the disease.

Nick Blair, 30, who has been left to look after their son, Jonathan, on his own, said other families must be spared the "unbearable" legacy of the human form of mad cow disease.

Julia Blair, 28, died last Friday after being allowed out of hospital for the last few days of her life.

The language teacher died peacefully with her husband and other members of her family round her bedside at a relative's home near Houston, Renfrewshire.

Mr Blair, who is also a teacher, expressed the hope that something positive would emerge from his wife's death.

He said: "We support a higher level of research into this disease and its effects and hope that this will happen soon so that families like ourselves will not be subjected to a threat of unbearable circumstances.

"The death of Julia is not without hope and, as Christians, we believe she is at rest with the Lord.

"Julia was able to sustain her disease because of her strong faith and it was her wish that God would use the situation for his own purposes, which are often difficult to understand immediately."

Mrs Blair, who came from the Moray Firth fishing village of Sandend, became ill while she was pregnant with Jonathan.

At first, her symptoms confounded the doctors and she was tested for psychological problems before they realised that she was suffering from the disease.

A month after giving birth to Jonathan at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital in February, her condition deteriorated. She remained in the neurological unit of the hospital but when doctors said there was no more they could do for her she moved to a cottage close to Mr Blair's parents' home near Houston.

Mrs Blair, who taught at Stonelaw Academy in Rutherglen, and her husband, a technical studies teacher, married at St Ninian's High School in Giffnock, three years ago.

Jonathan was their first child.

Although some experts believe CJD can be hereditary, tests have shown that Jonathan has not been infected.

A spokesman for Southern General Hospital said: "There is no known case as far as we are aware of a mother transmitting this disease to her unborn baby."

Mrs Blair, a graduate of Stirling University, had two brothers, Graeme, 30, and Phil, 25. Her father, former fisherman Magnus Smith, and his wife Marion are members of a strict Brethern order. They were at her bedside when she died.

Mr Smith said: "We are a quiet, Godly family and we have borne our daughter's illness as a family matter for many months."

The couple had set up home on the southside of Glasgow and were both members of the Greenview Evangelical Church.

A memorial service for Julia is due to take place in Glasgow on Tuesday before her body is taken to Portsoy, in Aberdeenshire, for burial the following day.

CJD has been linked to more than 100 deaths in the UK. The rare degenerative disease, which "eats away" at the human brain, is similar to BSE in cattle.

Experts believe many victims have contracted the disease through eating infected beef.

The latest evidence suggests CJD has an incubation period of between 12 and 15 years, raising the fear that thousands of people could be carrying the disease and that there may yet be an explosion of cases.

The number of people dying from CJD has risen from five a year in 1995 to an estimated 45 a yearby the end of 2001. Forecasts on how many will eventually die from the disease have been set as high as 136,000.

A team of scientists based at Imperial College, London, has revealed that those patients so far seen with CJD may be the ones genetically disposed to having the shortest "incubation" periods.

Most victims have been in their twenties and experts are still unsure why the infection strikes young people.

Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University warned that the unpredictable nature of new variant CJD meant other pregnant women could be at risk.

He said: "This is obviously going to happen again. There will be more cases within this age group."

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