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National News

Belynda Dunn, AIDS Activist, Dies After Second Liver Transplant

March 13, 2002

Belynda Dunn, whose crusade for a new liver pitted her against a big insurer and won the support of Boston's mayor, died yesterday in a Pittsburgh hospital, four days after she received the second of two liver transplants. She was 51. Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center believe a blood clot clogged her lungs.

Dunn's status as a person with AIDS prompted her insurer, Neighborhood Health Plan (NHP), to refuse to pay for a liver transplant, branding the treatment experimental. Such an operation in a patient with HIV was indeed long considered experimental, but that began to change with the arrival of potent drug cocktails that are reducing virus levels below detection in some patients. "There is enough experience that patients with HIV on treatment do well, and they do survive transplants, and it does prolong their life," said Dr. Frank Riddick, chairman of the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

"She was a survivor," said Larry Kessler, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, and Dunn's boss. "If anyone used the term 'victim,' she would straighten them out real quick." Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino stepped up to raise $275,000 for Dunn's transplant after NHP declined to pay. NHP later reversed its decision and promised to cover all costs above what the mayor had raised. Menino said, "She fought a valiant battle not only for her own life but for countless others with HIV and hepatitis C."

Dunn got her first new liver March 5, but doctors quickly realized the organ was not functioning. A second liver became available on Friday. This one worked better, but by the weekend Dunn was beset by respiratory distress. A hospital spokesperson said Dunn's death was not directly attributable to either HIV or hepatitis C. Dunn's mother, Addie Smith, and other family members are planning to return with her body to Boston. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.


Back to other CDC news for March 13, 2002

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Adapted from:
Boston Globe
03.13.02; Stephen Smith

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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