The secret in my blood

After he returned to the UK from Australia, just before Christmas 2000, a thought began to occur to Matt - he might be around for a long time. “I think travelling really helped, it made me see all this stuff, meet all these different people, and I could be… not someone else, but I was free of everything,” he says - including free of preconceptions about HIV. It helped that, with the arrival of anti-retroviral treatments, other people stopped regarding HIV as an automatic death sentence.

In 2003, Matt travelled to Bournemouth for a friend's stag do. In one bar, he found he'd been separated from his friends, so he struck up a conversation with a group of young women who were standing near him. He hit it off with one of them in particular. Before Matt left to rejoin the stag party, he swapped numbers with her.

They kept in touch and soon they were dating. Early in the relationship, he mentioned he had HIV and braced himself for a rejection. “It didn’t faze her,” he says. “At first I didn’t know if it had sunk in, what I’d told her. It was just like, phew.” By 2008 they were married. “It’s not bothered her whatsoever.”

If he'd never imagined it would be possible for him to meet someone, then having children seemed completely off the agenda. “I thought it was physically, medically, impossible,” he says. But one of his childhood friends, a haemophiliac who had also attended the camps in North Wales, told Matt he had become a father thanks to a technique called sperm-washing, a form of assisted conception.

Matt inquired about it and was dumbfounded to be told by a consultant that, because his viral load was still undetectable, it would be safe for him and his wife to have a baby naturally - without sperm-washing.

“I couldn't quite understand what they were saying,” he says. “I was like: ‘Do you not know what I’ve gone through the last 15 or 20 years? Do you think I’m going to subject anyone else to that?'” However low the risk of passing on the virus was, it wasn’t one he was willing to take.

The NHS funded three cycles of sperm-washing, which led to the birth of a son. Matt and his wife applied for assisted conception to have a second child, but this was refused. Despite a supporting letter from Matt’s HIV consultant pointing out that he had contracted HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products supplied by the NHS, they were told these were not “exceptional circumstances”. They had to pay for the treatment that gave them their second son.

Becoming a father was life-changing for Matt. And now, seeing his own boys approach the age at which he was infected brings home the enormity of what happened to him.

“It’s the only time I get emotional about the whole thing,” he says. “It makes me so angry. It’s almost a displaced anger - I don’t feel as if it was done to me, it’s as if it was done to my kids.” If he was told today that his sons had two years to live, he says, “God, I don’t know what I would do, so God knows how my parents felt.”

After decades of pressure from campaigners, a public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal is getting under way – but while Matt is glad it’s taking place, he feels it’s long overdue. “There’s an uproar about the tragedy of Grenfell, and rightly so, but because we’re dying quietly, individually, behind closed doors, no-one knows that,” he says.

Matt looks at where he is today with amazement. His hepatitis C has gone and his viral loads of HIV are still undetectable – he’s never had to take anti-retrovirals. Of about 1,250 haemophiliacs infected with both hepatitis C and HIV due to the scandal, according to the campaign group Tainted Blood, fewer than 250 are still alive. “It really is, in terms of health outcomes, like winning the lottery,” he says.

He has a family and a home in London - he thinks his career is several years behind where it should be, “but actually I'm not too hard on myself because look what I’ve done, I mean, I’m here and I've done it off my own back.”

He knows that many others haven’t been so fortunate. He’s hopeful that the forthcoming inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal will deliver justice, but he won’t allow himself to get too hopeful.

“Successive governments, Labour and Conservative and Liberal Democrat, have failed to address this issue and tried to put it on the back burner or just wait until we’re dead, until it goes away,” he says.

Despite the vast number of victims, the scandal commands relatively little attention because of the legacy of stigma around HIV and Aids, he believes – which is why he is telling his story.

“I'm pleased with where my life is at the moment - I’ve got a brilliant family, a wonderful wife, two wonderful kids,” Matt says. “I’ve got everything to be thankful for. But I shouldn’t have to be thankful for that.”