Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Tackle Their Mortality in 'Patient A'; the Play, Based on a True Story, Is about a Young Woman's Public Battle with AIDS

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Tackle Their Mortality in 'Patient A'; the Play, Based on a True Story, Is about a Young Woman's Public Battle with AIDS

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

Kimberly Bergalis' time in the national spotlight was unsought and unwanted.

Bergalis, a Fort Pierce resident and former University of Florida student, fought a brief but public battle with AIDS before dying in December 1991 at 23.

Now her short life and troubled death will be the subject of the first play of the year at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville.

Patient A, commissioned by the Bergalis family, has rarely been produced in recent years. But longtime Douglas Anderson theater teacher Michael Higgins said he picked it because his students had spent the summer working on an AIDS-related project.

"The kids were already talking about the subject," Higgins said of his three actors, two assistant directors and technical team of about 10 students.

Bergalis' story came to national attention when she insisted - and the Centers for Disease Control subsequently concluded - that she had not engaged in any high-risk behavior but had instead been infected by a dentist who had AIDS. She was the first person identified as having contracted AIDS from a health care worker.

As she grew sicker, Bergalis campaigned for federal legislation that would require health care workers to undergo testing for HIV and ban those who were found infected from performing procedures that might result in infection.

Following her death, Bergalis' family commissioned Lee Blessing, whose play A Walk in the Woods had been nominated for both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, to write Patient A.

But Bergalis' death turned out to be an anomaly, not a sign of things to come; there was no epidemic of people contracting HIV from health care workers.

"People see it as a piece that no longer has much implication," Higgins said.

But Higgins, who met the Bergalsis family at an annual high school theater festival of which he is state director, had always wanted to direct the show. …

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