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AIDS-Infected Doctor Testifies in Her Lawsuit Against Hospital

January 11, 1990 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A 32-year-old doctor suffering from AIDS told a jury Wednesday how she contracted the fatal disease by pricking her finger on a hidden needle while cleaning up after another doctor at a hospital.

Veronica Prego testified in her $175 million negligence lawsuit against Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, the other physician - Dr. Joyce Fogel - and others.

Prego remained composed during most of her nearly two hours on the stand, but sobbed as she described how her mother in Argentina learned she was hospitalized and rushed to New York to be with her.

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″I realized there was a very good chance I was going to die, and I asked a friend who spoke Spanish to call my mother,″ Prego said.

Prego said she became seriously ill in November 1987, several years after pricking her finger with the contaminated needle.

At the Bronx hospital where she was admitted, Prego said she was diagnosed with a form of pneumonia ″that really meant AIDS.″ She told the court that was the first time she learned she had developed the disease.

Prego tested positive for the AIDS virus two years earlier, but medical experts had been unable to tell her if she would come down with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

″I was told that I was a carrier of the virus, I was told that I was at risk. On the other hand, they couldn’t tell me if I would ever get sick,″ she testified, saying that in the early 1980s little was known about the risks to health-care workers.

Prego said that on Jan. 12, 1983, she had helped Fogel, an intern, take a blood sample from an AIDS patient at Kings County, then cleaned up the soiled gauze and linen.

″First I retrieved what I thought were all the needles. Then I came back to take the refuse that had been left behind,″ she said. ″When I picked up the refuse from the bed, I was stuck by a needle hidden among the refuse.″

Prego said she first tried to squeeze blood out of her finger, then looked for Fogel, who was supervising her.

″I was upset and she told me that she understood because it had happened to her ... She told me she had been reassured there were no cases where a health-care worker had gotten AIDS this way,″ Prego said.

Prego maintains in her lawsuit that she was pricked by an AIDS-infected needle because of improper procedures at the hospital. She contends Fogel drew blood from an AIDS patient near death, then carelessly left the needle in a pile of linen and other waste.

At the time, Prego, born and educated in Argentina, was working as an unpaid ″extern,″ a medical-school graduate under a licensed physician.

Prego testified she had never heard of AIDS before coming to the United States in 1982, and was given no official information on avoiding the disease when she went to work at Kings County.

Hospital attorneys maintain Prego got the disease through her own negligence. They say she was later pricked by a second infected needle and that it was unclear which caused her illness.

Prego admits the second accident, but her attorneys have said they will show the initial needle puncture caused her illness.

In addition to Fogel and the hospital, the lawsuit names the city Health and Hospitals Corp. and Dr. Sheldon Landesman, an AIDS specialist Prego says improperly disclosed her illness.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is caused by a virus that damages the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to infections and cancer.

It is spread most often through sexual contact, needles or syringes shared by drug abusers, infected blood or blood products, and from pregnant women to their offspring.