Had a Blood Transfusion? Planning a Baby? Then Have an Anonymous, Free AIDS Test

By SerVaas, Cory | The Saturday Evening Post, September 1987 | Go to article overview
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Had a Blood Transfusion? Planning a Baby? Then Have an Anonymous, Free AIDS Test

SerVaas, Cory, The Saturday Evening Post

When Amy Sloan of Lafayette, Indiana, entered the hospital in 1982, the last thing on her mind was AIDS. The disease was not widely discussed then, and Amy had other concerns--namely, a painful case of ulcerative colitis. During treatment, she received three units of blood that hadn't been screened for the AIDS virus--no test had yet become available to detect AIDS antibodies.

Three years later, in the spring of 1985, Amy experienced chest pains and breathing difficulty. A doctor familiar with AIDS symptoms was suspicious; tests confirmed his worst fear: the 24-year-old woman, not in any of the high-risk groups, had contracted AIDS from a tainted transfusion. The news was even more shattering because Amy had learned just two days earlier that she was pregnant. AIDS-antibody positive women are urged to become pregnant, because pregnancy puts a burden on the body's immune system that can precipitate full-blown AIDS. Then there was the worrisome question of whether her baby would also be infected with AIDS. Statistics indicate that children born of women carrying the AIDS virus have as much as a 50 percent chance of contracting the disease.

Amy's son beat the odds. With a representative from the Centers for Disease Control on hand during delivery, Amy gave birth to a healthy baby, who has since tested negative for the AIDS virus several times. Amy's husband, Steve, has also tested negative for the virus.

Amy Sloan died in January of this year, but only after a courageous battle against the illness. Instead of slipping off quietly to face the disease alone, she took it upon herself to raise public awareness of AIDS. She gave dozens of interviews, appeared on the "20/20" TV show, testified before state legislators, and spoke at nearly 100 group and public meetings.

For her family, Amy's death only reinforced the need for more action. "I think there should be much more education and testing," her brother, George Brook, told the Post recently. "This isn't a thing to be played with. It seems like we're just burying our heads in the sand."

Amy's estate is suing the Central Indiana Regional Blood Center even though it wasn't possible for the center to have tested the blood at the time of the tragedy. The Centers for Disease Control, in fact, points out that it wouldn't have been legal to test blood for AIDS then because there was no FDA-approved test at that time.

The attorneys for Amy Sloan's estate are asking for a jury trial. Dr. Margaret Waid, the associate medical director of the Central Indiana Regional Blood Center, says"If any major funds are awarded to anybody for an AIDS case, the blood banks will be forced to close down throughout the nation. There are a couple of instances where a financial settlement was made out of court," she said, "but it was a modest amount, not a million dollars." The Sloan case is the only one so far, against the Indiana blood bank. Dr. Waid believes that legally the claimants "don't have a leg to stand on. This is why their lawyer wants a jury trial," she says. "He thinks that the jury will give a sympathy award even though they don't have valid grounds.

'Here's a little child conceived while a woman was AIDS positive, and the child deserves something toward his education.' " Dr. Waid indicated such a decision would be disastrous, not just for central Indiana but for the country.

Amy's story is tragic, and there are hundreds of similar heart rending deaths like hers throughout the country.

Nevertheless, spokesmen for the scientific community and for the blood-bank industry feel that it is most unfortunate that the blood bank is being sued by her estate.

One FDA official, however, who asked not to be named, suggested that the lawyer for Amy's estate might make a case that blood banks should have used greater care in screening out high-risk donors after the AIDS epidemic began.

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Had a Blood Transfusion? Planning a Baby? Then Have an Anonymous, Free AIDS Test


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