Woman who got AIDS from dentist to testify today Bergalis, critically ill, to support testing bill

September 26, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Her dying wish was to come to Washington and speak before members of Congress.

And this morning, 23-year-old Kimberly Bergalis of Fort Pierce, Fla., her gaunt, weakened body all but destroyed by AIDS, is expected to walk through the doors of a congressional hearing room -- and poignantly, if briefly, make her case.

"Kimberly has given her life for this," her father, George Bergalis, said yesterday at a news conference here. "Her journey here, whatever happens, may be her last."

Ms. Bergalis, who contracted the human immunodeficiency virus from her dentist, Dr. David Acer, in 1987 and was diagnosed with AIDS in early 1990, is scheduled to make a very short statement in support of the Kimberly Bergalis Patient and Health Providers' Protection Act.

The bill, introduced by Representative William E. Dannemeyer, R-Calif., would require mandatory AIDS testing for patients and health care workers who perform invasive procedures and prohibit doctors who test positive from performing such procedures without patient consent.

Ms. Bergalis, whose case is the first documented one of a patient acquiring the disease from a health care worker, arrived here yesterday morning after a 19-hour train trip. Her mother, Anna Bergalis, traveled with her.

Mr. Bergalis, who flew to Washington yesterday, said there were three things to which his daughter was looking forward.

"This was her opportunity to come here and perhaps do something very instrumental in helping this legislation become law. . . . And then simplistically, and perhaps selfishly, she's never been on a train before -- she wanted to ride the train. And also, she's never been to Washington before."

Today's hearing had originally been scheduled for earlier this month, and the delay led the Bergalis family to accuse lawmakers ofplaying politics and trying to prevent the young woman's appearance. But the delay, her mother said now, has given her daughter more resolve and determination to stay alive.

"Three weeks ago, she couldn't walk, talk or eat," Mrs. Bergalis said yesterday. "She's living in spite of them. That's where the steel and iron comes from."

Her father said of her congressional apperance, "She's nervous. She wants to look good. She wants to make sure she can walk in and say what she has to say."

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