A Baltimore-area man injured in an auto accident in 1989 says he was infected by a transfusion of AIDS-tainted blood sometime during a 2 1/2 -year series of operations at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
Before learning he was infected, the man says, he unknowingly transmitted the virus to his wife during sexual intercourse.
The couple learned they were infected in January, when they were rejected for a life insurance policy because blood tests revealed both carried the virus that causes AIDS, the suit says.
"These people are terrified," said Marvin Ellin, the couple's attorney.
Although they have no symptoms of AIDS as yet, "they are fearful of everything they do, fearful of their children somehow contracting it. . . . Were it not for a fine psychiatrist, I don't know how they would manage."
The couple made their allegations in a suit filed this week before the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Board. By law, no damage amount can be stated in a suit before the arbitration board, where in Maryland attempts must first be made to resolve health claims out of court. If the case does go to a jury, Mr. Ellin said he would seek "not less than $30 million" for the couple and their children.
The suit accuses the UM Medical System, two doctors' associations and Dr. Bennett B. Edelman, the hospital blood bank chief, of negligence in the handling of 49 of the 50 units of blood the man received. Because the donors were unknown to the hospital, the blood should have been retested for AIDS after it was obtained from the Red Cross and a commercial blood bank, the suit says.
A University of Maryland Medical Center spokeswoman said that all blood used by the hospital is tested according to government guidelines, and that no retesting is required. But she said a "remote" chance of infection with AIDS during transfusion remains.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says 18 adults and two children nationwide have contracted the HIV virus from donated blood that had tested negative for the virus. Such testing has been routine nationwide since 1985.
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus believed to cause AIDS. The disease is most often transmitted by unprotected sexual contact with an infected individual or by the sharing of contaminated needles.
To protect their privacy, the couple have filed the suit under assumed names, William and Deborah Carter. Mr. Ellin said that the "Carters" are in their 40s, with two school-age children, and that they live "within 12 miles of downtown Baltimore."
The "Carters" -- who would not consent to an interview -- have kept knowledge of their infection from their children, family and close friends, Mr. Ellin said.
"Neither were drug users, nor did they use hypodermic needles . . . which might have been contaminated," the suit claims. They "have not had any exposure to or danger of contracting HIV."
Between March 5, 1989, and Sept. 23, 1991, Mr. Carter received 50 units of blood during operations at Shock-Trauma and at the University of Maryland Hospital. "He was assured that the blood administered to him was safe and free from any danger of infection," the suit alleges.
Mr. Ellin said 44 of the 50 units given to Mr. Carter were purchased from the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Blood Service of the Red Cross. Five others came from the Maryland Blood Center Inc., a now-defunct commercial blood bank with corporate offices in Upper Marlboro.
Had Mr. Carter known all but one unit of the blood came from outside the hospital's own blood bank, Mr. Ellin said, "he never would have agreed to it. He would have gotten family members to donate blood."
University of Maryland Medical Center spokeswoman Jill Bloom said all blood used by the hospital "is collected from volunteer blood donors by FDA-approved facilities and tested according to universally accepted standards.
"Unfortunately," she said, "there remains a remote possibility of contracting HIV from any blood transfusion even if it is appropriately screened and tested."
Dr. Edelman, director of the hospital's blood bank, said research has shown that some individuals may not develop detectable HIV antibodies for up to six months after they are first infected. Blood donated during that "window of time" may test negative for AIDS, according to Dr. Edelman.
The Carters' suit says blood from unknown donors should be held until that "window of time" is past and the donor is tested a second time and found to be HIV negative. But Dr. Edelman said such blood would then be too old to use.
Experts say the risks of dying from surgery or from complications of anesthesia are still much higher than is the risk of contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.
Efforts to reach Maryland Blood Center Inc. for comment were unsuccessful.