NWGHAAD Highlight Part 1- Kimberly Bergalis

Kimberly Bergalis had an interesting and public battle with HIV/AIDS.  She was one of a group of patients who were said to be infected by a dentist, which made this a medical malpractice case.  Her infection appeared to be due to clinical transmission, as blood analysis identified her and a few others as having the same strand of HIV as the dentist.  There are different theories on how the patients became infected. Initially, it appeared it may have been an unfortunate mishap with the tools used during an oral surgery.  Later, a “friend” disclosed the dentist purposely injected the virus into select patients in an effort to get HIV/AIDS taken seriously, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The details of this case are unconfirmed due to a court settlement.

As the media got involved, this case became a representation of “blameless” HIV.  She was said to have been a virgin; however, 60 Minutes aired an episode after her death claiming she was treated for other STIs and showed a video where she allegedly admitted to having sex with two men.  Please note, two former boyfriends were identified as HIV negative and the dentist is still considered to be the person who infected her.

This case was a pivotal moment in the medical community, but it also highlights the negative stigma that exists when discussing HIV/AIDS.  It’s unfortunate this woman’s sex life became a spectacle when discussing her infection. The idea of putting “blameless” HIV on a pedestal sends a message to other victims that in some way they deserved the virus.  It was unnecessary to later try to uncover her sex life; as if sex isn’t a natural part of most humans’ existence.

This case also introduced the idea of demanding medical professionals to disclose their status if they are HIV positive.  Despite the controversy, there is a lot to be learned from Kimberly’s experience.  Although this case exposed many people’s aversion to HIV/AIDS, it is the catalyst of important discussions.

Thank you, Kimberly Bergalis.  Because of you, we know more.

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