In a federal lawsuit filed this week, the South Carolina man says he ended up with “full-blown AIDS” because he never received treatment after being kept in the dark.
“The treatment that is being done now is effective, but essentially 25 years of treatment and wear and tear without any treatment has come,” McDowan said.
“He feels extremely guilty about his girlfriends over the last 25 years because he didn’t know,” he said.
HIV testing was performed in November 1995 as part of the standard laboratory testing of the trial department of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in South Carolina, Columbia.
The VA “generally does not comment on pending litigation,” agency spokesman Marlus Black said in an email.
The man, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe to protect his privacy, was hurt in a wreck in a 1976 Navy ship, the lawsuit states.
He was aboard a destroyer that crashed into an aircraft carrier off the coast of Scotland, McGowan said. The destroyer was asked by the soldiers to leave the ship. He and others were rescued from the North Sea.
McGowan said his client led the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was classified as handicapped due to his physical and mental injuries, and began treatment by the Veterans Affairs Department.
A doctor at VA’s Columbia Medical Center ordered lab work that included HIV testing in November 1995. The guidelines require that any positive test result be reported to patients, and treatment begins. “In clear violation of the standard of care, Mr. Doe was not informed until decades later about positive HIV testing,” the lawsuit states.
In 2014, a nurse practitioner at a Columbia facility wrote a memorandum of 1995 lab tests, according to the medical records included in the complaint. Information about the complaint is still not disclosed to the veteran.
In 2015, the veteran saw another doctor through the VA who wrote in a medical record that he was showing positive HIV tests in 1995 lab results. The doctor asked him who his infectious disease doctor was, and the veteran said he did not have one. The doctor also asked the veteran if he knew he was HIV positive, and he replied that he was never told about any positive tests.
That doctor “does not diagnose Mr. Doe’s problem to flag a positive HIV test for the complainant nor does he add a positive HIV test to Mr. Doe’s problem list or medical history in his medical chart.”
It was not until September 2018, when the veteran had an emergency trip to Maimonides Medical Center – a non-VA hospital in New York City – in which he received a definitive diagnosis and began treatment for HIV / AIDS. At that point, he responded well to antiretroviral therapy, but “the virus had already progressed to full-blown AIDS,” the complaint states.
He “suffered unnecessarily for decades with co-existing conditions in HIV-infected individuals, including lymphadenopathy, neurotoxoplasmosis, muscle aches, and joint pain,” the complaint states.
“If the defendants had acted within the standard of care, the losses that Mr. Doe had suffered would not have suffered in the future, and would continue in the future and more than likely he would not have had AIDS.”
Some people who are HIV positive can live for many years without developing symptoms, but in others the symptoms develop very quickly, experts say.
“Some people really progress fast and nothing progresses,” said Dr., director of the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University in Atlanta. Carlos Del Rio said.
The alleged negligence in this lawsuit appears to be highly unusual.
“I can’t think of any specific situation where someone’s test results were delayed that way,” said attorney Scott Schoets, HIV project director at Lambda Legal, an HIV-related courtroom around the nation Cases involved. Schuettes is not involved in the South Carolina case.
McGowan said he had been advocated for other VA patients who had not been informed in a timely manner after a biopsy found evidence of the disease, “but there is nothing where there is a delay of 25 years.”
“In my experience working with patients like Mr. Doe, VA has so many providers who come and go, that they try to have some continuity of care, but stuff falls through the cracks all the time, ” They said. I believe that as it gets pushed down in the file no one else sees.