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Woman Who Got AIDS From Dentist Laid to Rest

December 12, 1991 GMT

TAMAQUA, Pa. (AP) _ AIDS victim Kimberly Bergalis and her campaign for mandatory testing of health care workers would not be forgotten with her death, a Roman Catholic priest told mourners today.

About 150 family members, friends and former neighbors attended Bergalis’ funeral Mass this morning at the SS. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church. Burial was to follow in a decades-old Lithuanian cemetery on a hillside near the Schuylkill River.

Miss Bergalis, who spent the first 10 years of her life in this town of 9,400, died in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Sunday at the age of 23.

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Miss Bergalis came forward 15 months ago to say she was ″patient A,″ the first known case in the United States of a patient who contracted AIDS during a medical procedure. Federal officials said she contracted AIDS from an infected dentist.

Her campaign for mandatory testing of health professionals gained nationwide attention but failed to convince Congress or medical associations, who argue that transmission of infection from health care workers to patients is extremely unlikely if proper precautions are taken.

In his homily, the Rev. Bill Linkchorst talked of Miss Bergalis’ public struggle with her illness.

″In her very short life, Kimberly Bergalis accomplished more than most people accomplish in their whole lifetime,″ he said.

″She will always be remembered for her mission,″ he said. ″Her dying wish was that what happened to her should never happen to anyone else.

″She faced an impossible situation: her daily struggle with pain, her long battle with AIDS. And yet she continued to live her life to the very end,″ he said.

As the white casket, decorated with a spray of pink roses, was carried to the front of the church, Kimberly’s mother, Anna, fought back tears. Her chin trembled while the choir sang, ″Be Not Afraid.″

Mrs. Bergalis and her husband, George, arrived at the church this morning for the funeral. They waved aside about 30 reporters saying they wanted the day to themselves.

One of the mourners at the funeral was a former high school classmate of George Bergalis, who said Kimberly Bergalis’ illness brought the spectre of AIDS to the rugged coal country of eastern Pennsylvania.

″It opened up a lot of eyes. This is a small town - you talk about issues like this but this makes it real,″ said Roberta Coccio, 47. ″You’re raising a family - you don’t think anything like this can happen to someone from Tamaqua.″

″Certainly the Kimberly Bergalis story is something that will make us all think,″ said the mayor of the Schuylkill County town, Jerry Knowles.

In October, Miss Bergalis, in obvious pain and slurring some words, pleaded with Congress for mandatory testing of health care workers and patients before procedures that could result in an exchange of blood.

Her position was opposed by AIDS activists, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association. Some accused her of fanning public hysteria over AIDS.

Her dentist, David Acer, pulled two of her teeth in December 1987, two months after learning he had full-blown AIDS. He treated another 2,000 patients before he died in September 1990. He is believed to have infected four other patients.