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Mass. Woman Sues Over HIV Misdiagnosis

Jan 2, 2004 | AP

A Fitchburg woman who received nine years of HIV treatments after she was misdiagnosed with the virus is suing the doctors and clinics who treated her.

Audrey Serrano, 41, said she was diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS (news - web sites) in 1994 by the Family Practice Clinic in Fitchburg, but six blood tests since Labor Day show she does not have HIV. The lawsuit was filed Dec. 29 in Worcester Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages.

"It's nice to not constantly feel like you're going to die, literally," she said. "I'm still tired a lot, though."

Serrano claims she's suffered a variety of physical ailments including colitis, an inflammation of the intestine because of AZT and other harsh medicines she took daily to fight the virus, which attacks the immune system. Emotional distress led to depression, she said.

In addition to the Family Practice Clinic (now called All Family Care Inc.), the lawsuit names several doctors and clinics that treated Serrano, including Dr. Kwan K. Lai, who works for the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester; Dr. Bonnie Laudenbach, who now works in Kentucky; and Women's Medical Associates, formerly of Fitchburg.

UMass Memorial spokesman Mark L. Shelton said the hospital did nothing wrong. The hospital has not been notified of the suit, but received a letter from one of Serrano's attorneys alleging negligence and "demanding 'the maximum amount of compensation permitted by law,'" he said.

"These allegations are unfounded and UMass Memorial is confident it would prevail should a suit actually be brought and a full and objective review of the relevant records be conducted," Shelton said in statement. "UMass Memorial has not treated anyone for HIV who did not have HIV, and there is no factual basis for reporting otherwise."

A call to All Family Care was not immediately returned. There was no answer to calls to Laudenbach's office in Ashland, Ky., and there was no listing in Massachusetts for Women's Medical Associates.

Serrano's suit claims, among other things, that her providers failed to periodically retest her to determine the accuracy of the initial test.

Serrano, who is divorced and has a 13-year-old daughter who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she became suspicious of her HIV-positive status just before Labor Day after obtaining her medical records, and noticing the word "negative" beside a long list of tests. She got retested.

"Part of me still didn't believe it, that's why I went for another test," Serrano said. "I kept saying 'one more test.'"

She's unsure whether the test nine years ago was a false positive, or if it was a record mix up. "It didn't hit me until I got to my car," she said. "I just sat in my car and a I cried. I was numb. I didn't know what to feel."

Serrano, an alcoholic who had been sober for three years before the HIV diagnosis, started drinking again. "I ended up totaling my car," she said.

She spent 30 days in a women's prison in Framingham for drunken driving.

Serrano celebrated nine years of sobriety on Nov. 9. She's unemployed, but is studying to be a paralegal and does AIDS outreach.

She said she still suffers side effects from taking more than 20 pills daily for nine years. Bowel problems from colitis require frequent trips to the bathroom, and her strength is limited, she said.

One of her attorneys, Ross Annenberg, said there's no specific dollar figure they are seeking. That would be determined later, he said.

"(Serrano) incurred great sums in medical expenses, lost significant earnings, and has suffered diminished earning capacity in the future as a direct and proximate result of the defendants' negligence," the lawsuit states.

The defendants have about three weeks to respond to the suit.


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