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Woman Who Caught AIDS from Dentist Near Death

June 15, 1991 GMT

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) _ Once a powerful voice in the battle for patients’ rights after contracting AIDS from her dentist, Kimberly Bergalis is waiting to die.

She became a celebrity after the government said she was the first patient in the nation to be infected with the AIDS virus by a health-care worker. But now, with her body wracked by AIDS-related tuberculosis, the 23-year-old is too weak to carry on her fight, her family says.

Bergalis’ weight is down to about 70 pounds. She is unable to walk. She speaks haltingly through lips pained by blisters, her words slurred.


Swallowing food has become impossible. A vitamin drink and Gatorade are all she can keep down. She spends her days in bed or on the living room couch, watching TV and listening to music.

″Her mind is still clear,″ her father, George Bergalis, said last week. ″That’s one of the hardest things. She knows how bad she’s gotten and it really bothers her. She keeps asking, ’Why won’t God take me? Why won’t he let me die?‴

Miss Bergalis came forward after the federal Centers for Disease Control reported last August that a Florida dentist somehow transmitted the AIDS virus to his patient. The case opened a national debate on whether patients should know whether their doctors have AIDS.

Dr. David Acer, a bisexual who learned he had full-blown AIDS in September 1987, extracted Miss Bergalis’ molars that December and regularly treated about 2,000 patients before he died on Sept. 3, 1990.

Last week, the agency confirmed that at least five of those patients were infected by Acer’s unique strain of the HIV virus.

″If this man had the courage and the medical dignity to admit he had AIDS, we would’ve been spared,″ said Barbara Webb, a retired English teacher who is among the five. ″There is morally no reason for Kim to be dying and for me to be feeling terrible.″

Mrs. Webb, 65, is fighting an AIDS-related pleurisy that fills her lungs with fluid, but she visited Miss Bergalis last week - and promised to pick up where the young woman left off.

″It was pretty sad. She is so fragile at this point that you hardly dare touch her,″ Mrs. Webb said. ″I said, ‘I’m here because I love you and to let you know that I’ll carry the torch you gave me.‴’

Miss Bergalis was 21 when she first felt sick. It was December 1989. She almost died of pneumonia.


An HIV test came back positive. The family suspected Acer, but wasn’t sure until the CDC report came out.

Miss Bergalis decided then to make the most of the time she had left, campaigning for tough restrictions on the practices of infected health-care workers and full disclosure of AIDS status between doctors and patients.

The medical establishment maintains that since at least 6,436 health care workers have AIDS, and Acer’s is the only case where the virus is known to have been transmitted to a patient, mandatory testing and restrictions remain unnecessary.

Miss Bergalis’ health took a turn for the worse in February, after she was interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show and came home exhausted. It was one of her last appearances.

She signed a ″living will″ asking that no heroic measures be taken to prolong her life. Then she celebrated winning $1 million from Acer’s estate with the purchase of a new, red Corvette.

″She drove it for about two weeks. It served its purpose at the time,″ her father said.

The car is gone now. The money pays for in-home nurses.

After a particularly painful blood transfusion at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital in early April, she told her family that was it - no more doctors, no more needles, no more pills.

Her family and friends say it’s important to describe her condition in graphic detail now to bring home the reality of AIDS. Meanwhile, the Bergalis family has quit praying for miracles.

″We pray that God will be kind to her and let her die a peaceful death,″ George Bergalis said. ″She took on the establishment and she won. But she’s losing. Because they’re still alive and she’s going to die.″