The Truth: The Story of Anique
Anique Jacqueline Kasper, my daughter, was born September 23, 1980, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, seven weeks premature. She spent the first three weeks of her life in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit where she received blood transfusions without either parental knowledge, or consent. For the following seven years she suffered numerous illnesses, for which her pediatricians could not find a cause.
The month prior, August 19, 1980, Helen Kushnick, then manager of Jay Leno, and later executive producer of "The Tonight Show," gave birth to twins, Sam and Sara. They too were premature and required admission to the neonatal care unit at Cedars-Sinai. Both received red blood cell transfusions as part of their medical management.
In October of 1983, Sam died at the age of three. The underlying cause of his death was AIDS, contracted from transfusions received at Cedars-Sinai. Two months later the Kushnicks' sued the hospital. In a deposition transcript dated December 20, 1983, the Kushnicks' stated, "We insisted that the other children who had been in the neonatal unit with Sam and Sara be contacted in the hope that he could possibly save another child's life." There were 33 other children in Cedars-Sinai neonatal unit that received HIV infected blood. Anique was one of these children.
What I wish to relate to you is not the pain of losing a child to an insidious disease such as AIDS. I am sure you can understand, in part, what this must be like. What I do wish to impart to you is, what I firmly believe, the gross sense of immorality, inhumanity, insensitivity, irresponsibility and dishonesty shown by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in their interaction, or lack thereof, with the families of the other 33 unfortunate children who also received HIV infected transfusions at the hospital.
As a result of the death of Sam Kushnick, and other children, Cedars-Sinai Blood Bank personnel and it's director, Dennis Goldfinger, MD, became acutely aware in the early 1980's that neonates at Cedars-Sinai had contracted AIDS through infected transfusions received in their unit. This was disclosed in a deposition taken from Ms. Louise Smith, second in charge of the blood bank at Cedars, in December 1994. 11 years later.
Further testimonial revealed that Dr. Goldfinger personally provided the Los Angeles County Health Department with the identity of the donor whose blood had infected Anique. This particular donor was the common donor responsible for infecting multiple children with HIV.
The identification of this donor was first corroborated in a letter from Cedars dated December 29, 1983. The donor was again identified in another letter dated November 15, 1984, and in two letters dated April 9, 1985. It was determined that this specific individual donated blood 17 times between 1979-1982!
One unit of this donor's infected blood was divided into four aliquots, or portions, and administered to premature infants in Cedars neonatal intensive care unit. As a result, four children developed AIDS. One was diagnosed in 1983, another in 1984, and a third in 1985. The fourth child, was my daughter, Anique.
After Sam Kushnick died in 1983, we were not notified by Cedars that our daughter could be at risk for AIDS, even though both children had been in the hospital's neonatal unit at precisely the same time! After the other three children who received aliquots of blood from the common donor developed AIDS in 1983, 1984, and 1985, we were still not notified. Anique was in school interacting with other children, as well as family members and friends. During these years, Cedars and Dr. Goldfinger were well aware of the mode of transmission of AIDS, the risks of blood transfusions from poorly selected donors, and the lethality of AIDS.
Other physicians voiced concern about the Medical Center's attitude in recruiting blood from high risk donors. Vicki Hufnagel, MD, a staff physician at Cedars from 1980 until early 1984, met with Dr. Goldfinger prior to 1984. At that time she expressed serious concerns "that the hospital was actively seeking blood donations from the West Hollywood community" with its large homosexual population. Fearing that the virus was transmitted by body fluids, she cautioned such donations were "not medically sound, ill advised and was life threatening to any and all persons undergoing blood transfusions."
Dr. Goldfinger's response to these concerns was "the blood was free, and that the purpose of the drive was to keep operating costs down."
At the same time that Cedars-Sinai was recruiting blood from high-risk donors. it was also working on a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded grant, examining neonates who had received blood transfusions at the hospital. The grant application Submitted by Dr. Thomas Mundy in 1984 to the CDC for funding of the "lookback" study reveals that Cedars itself recognized that an inordinately high percentage of its donors were gay males from the area immediately surrounding the hospital.
Later, a statistical analysis of all pediatric AIDS cases in Los Angeles County from 1978-1992, resulting from HIV infected blood transfusions, would show Cedars-Sinai Medical Center alone responsible for a startling 3 out of 4 such cases or a staggering 72%.
On January 25, 1995, in deposition, Dr. Goldfinger testified that when the FDA approved the first effective test for HIV in March of 1985, Cedars immediately began using it on all donors associated with multiple cases of transfusion related AIDS.
Dr. Goldfinger is also quoted in a newspaper interview: "As far as informing the 33 other families [whose children had also been transfused with HIV infected blood] after Sam's AIDS was identified, that would have been 'extremely dangerous,' and 'very treacherous,' Goldfinger says. The hospital made a decision based on its best judgment."
On February 11, 1997, I received a phone call from Dr. Mundy informing me he was conducting a "lookback" study on neonates, sponsored by the CDC. This study, he continued, "revealed that Anique, shortly after birth, had been transfused with blood from a donor who subsequently died of AIDS."
Anique had been ill since birth with fevers of undetermined origin, anemia, and failure to thrive. In August of 1987, at the age of seven, and four years after Sam Kushnick's death, she was diagnosed with AIDS. Four precious years were wasted in not treating my child: early treatment before AIDS ravaged her immune system, treatment that may have prolonged her life. Four years went by with everyone who came into contact with Anique ignorant that her blood harbored the AIDS virus; a potential risk for further spread of AIDS.
Anique was 11 when she died July 1, 1992.
Dr. Wilbert Jordan, a specialist in infectious diseases and Director of the Oasis Clinic and AIDS Program at Martin Luther King-Drew University Medical Center in Los Angeles says in a declaration as an expert, "Given the increased risk that Cedars' transfusion recipients faced and the defendant's admitted knowledge of at least three cases of transfusion associated AIDS arising from the same donor, defendants were obligated to notify the family." Their failure to do so was a clear deviation of the applicable standard of care, he said.
Cedars-Sinai was granted a Summary Judgment on February 28, 1995. This was based solely on the issue of Standard of Care, with the factual basis of the care undisputed by the hospital. An action brought for intentional tort was decided using law pertaining to medical malpractice: the judge ruled that Cedars-Sinai behaved no differently than any other hospital at that time.
Simply put, even though what Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was doing was obviously wrong, they are absolved from any legal responsibility because everyone else was doing the same.
But, what about moral and ethical responsibility? If it is right, it is right even if no one is doing it. If it is wrong, it is wrong even if everyone is doing it!
This fight for the truth and justice is far from over.
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