Montreal Hospital Begins HIV Testing Thousands of Child Patients Operated on by HIV-Positive Surgeon

A Montreal children's hospital by Saturday had already tested 400 former child patients and scheduled testing for 500 more who were operated on between 1990 and 2003 by a now-deceased surgeon whom the hospital administration recently learned was HIV-positive, the CP/Ottawa Citizen reports. Thus far, no children have tested HIV-positive (CP/Ottawa Citizen, 1/25). The hospital plans to contact and test more than 2,600 former patients, according to Reuters/New York Times (Reuters/New York Times, 1/23). Although the Sainte-Justine Children's Hospital has "insisted" that all young patients operated on by Dr. Maria Di Lorenzo be contacted and informed that Di Lorenzo -- who died on Aug. 16, 2003 -- was HIV-positive, hospital officials said the chance that any children contracted HIV from operations is "extremely small," according to Toronto's Globe and Mail (Picard/Peritz, Globe and Mail, 1/23). Di Lorenzo in 1991 informed her immediate supervisor of her HIV-positive status and a committee was formed to determine what medical work she could do, according to the AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. However, the hospital had no "written follow-ups" on Di Lorenzo after 1996 (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 1/22). Although Di Lorenzo's immediate supervisor was aware of her HIV status, the hospital administration said that it was unaware of the doctor's HIV status until a "few weeks ago" and that Di Lorenzo continued to operate on patients until her death in 2003, according to the Toronto Star (Cernetig, Toronto Star, 1/23). The hospital on Wednesday sent 700 letters to patients who were operated on by Di Lorenzo and said they would contact all other potentially affected patients in coming days (Carroll, CanWest News Service/National Post, 1/23). As of Saturday, a call center established at the hospital had received 7,200 phone calls from the public and families of former patients, according to the CP/Citizen (CP/Ottawa Citizen, 1/25). Official investigations by both the hospital and public health authorities have been initiated, but the Canadian Medical Association said that health care workers do not have an "explicit obligation" to tell patients about their HIV status, according to the Globe and Mail. The Quebec College of Physicians is preparing a more detailed set of guidelines for HIV-positive doctors (Globe and Mail, 1/23).

The hospital's announcement "went off like a rocket" in Montreal, "flooding the hospital's switchboard with calls from people wondering if they or their children had been infected [with HIV]," according to the Star. Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse, who had his appendix removed by Di Lorenzo, said he is not concerned about his potential exposure to HIV, adding, "It doesn't bother me really because there is only a very small chance that I have [HIV]. Between then and now, I had more chance of being in a car accident than getting AIDS" (Toronto Star, 1/23). Manon Lariviere, the mother of a child who underwent surgery at the hospital, said she is "angry and really worried," but she added that she was "grateful" to Di Lorenzo because the doctor "saved my son's life" (Globe and Mail, 1/23). Dr. Lucie Poitras, director of professional services at the hospital, said, "Of the thousands of surgeries conducted every day in the western world since the appearance of HIV more than 20 years ago, only two situations where patients were contaminated by HIV-positive physicians have been recorded to date, and no affected children have been reported" (Reuters, 1/22).

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