Horrific Death Of Girl
With vCJD Videotaped
In England
Harrowing film shows family's agony over girl's painful death.
On the eve of today's publication of the report into the BSE fiasco in Britain, the nation was shown harrowing images of a child suffering a slow, painful death from the human form of mad cow disease.
Zoe Jeffries, 14, once a healthy, active child, was pictured lying almost motionless as her mother and sisters attended to her needs at the family home in Wigan, Greater Manchester.
Her mother, Helen, 39, allowed cameras into the house to film her sick daughter, providing the first real glimpse of the devastation vCJD has wreaked on its victims and their families.
In the interview broadcast by Channel 4 News, she described how Zoe had been a popular girl with a passion for sport before showing the first symptoms of the illness two months after her husband died in May 1998.
She said: "One morning she got up and just didn't do anything. She just cried. It was as though she went to bed one person and got up a different person." Zoe cried solidly for two weeks, Mrs Jeffries said, then she began to scream all the time, refusing to leave the house and screaming when she went to school.
Doctors assumed she was suffering a delayed reaction to her father's death. She was prescribed anti-depressants but by the end of the year her mobility was affected.
Mrs Jeffries said: "It was about October when I noticed that she wasn't walking properly. She held her arms out and dragged one foot behind. She kept her balance most of the time but you could tell she was making an effort to do that."
Mrs Jeffries said she had taken Zoe, her eldest child, to a neurologist after waiting three months for an appointment, and the doctor knew almost instantly what was wrong with her.
She said: "You just feel like someone has hit you on the head with a hammer. Zoe was sat outside waiting and I just remember walking out of the room and looking at her and I couldn't tell her. I have never told her since. I didn't really cry - something died inside me and I couldn't cry."
She described how her other children had "sobbed their hearts out" when she broke the tragic news to them.
Mrs Jeffries said that it took until April 1999 for doctors from the CJD Surveillance Unit to officially diagnose her daughter's condition as vCJD.
She told the programme she was angry that help from social services, since Zoe was diagnosed, had been patchy at best and non-existent at worst.
The occupational therapist assigned to Zoe said that the family could not have a stairlift because their stairs were too narrow, and that they could not have an extension to the house "because she wouldn't live long enough".
"It's more than anyone can cope with. We had to fight for everything - even incontinence pads I had to go to my MP for," said Mrs Jeffries. "We shouldn't have to do all that."
Zoe's breathing now stops on occasions and she has to be given emergency oxygen to keep her alive.
Her mother said: "I don't know if it's the right thing to do _ I hope that when the time comes I can say 'leave her be'. I'm not sure I can do it but I'm going to have to, for her."
Mrs Jeffries said that she wanted the BSE report to name those to blame in the crisis, adding: "It's just as if someone had stuck a knife in Zoe's body - I really do think she has been murdered. If she were a cow and I was a farmer then we would get everything I needed."
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