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President Visits AIDS Patients, Calls for Compassionate Care

December 22, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush hugged a group of children with AIDS, assuring one youngster that a cure will be found, and then handed out Christmas candy during a tour of AIDS wards Friday at the National Institutes of Health.

″I hope they find a cure for AIDS,″ Brett Lykins, a 9-year-old who suffers from the disease, told Bush as the president and Mrs. Bush sat in a circle with six young AIDS patients.

″I’ll bet it happens,″ Bush said.

Both the president and his wife wished each child a merry Christmas, and twice Bush embraced a youngster in a grandfatherly hug. Mrs. Bush also held several of the children.

″Has there been a change toward a more compassionate view (toward AIDS) in the communities?″ Bush asked at one point.

Vonzella Johnson, sitting beside the president and holding her 2-year-old daughter, said that she hadn’t experienced that compassion in her hometown of Painesville, Ohio.

She said she’s received little help or support at home.

″I’m going to move because I have other kids,″ she said.

Mrs. Johnson said that both she and her daughter, Mary Catherine, ″are infected″ and that the NIH clinics offered their only hope.

″This place is a blessing,″ she said.

Kevin Charles Porter, an 11-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., said he had been on a new AIDS drug, called DDI, for four months.

″How do you feel?″ the president asked. ″Like when you wake up in the morning. Or does it just depend?″

The boy ducked his head and his father, Charles Porter, spoke up.

″Our son has shown great improvement,″ he said. ″What we’d like is a strong committment from you to help, not just these kids, but lots of kids with AIDS everywhere.″

″We certainly want to do that,″ Bush said. ″Good luck to you.″

The children presented the Bushes with sweatshirts decorated with a drawing of a rising sun.

Dr. Phil Pizzo, who is in charge of the pediatric clinic, said the drawing was by a child who had died of AIDS.

″We offer it in his memory,″ Pizzo said.

Bush took a gold-wrapped package from an aide and said it could be opened after he left. Then he changed his mind and removed the wrapping to reveal a sealed box of candy.

He started to open the box, but Mrs. Bush, shaking her head, spoke up.

″I don’t think the doctors will like that,″ she said. ″George, this is very dangerous.″

The president opened the box, anyway, and then grinned like a happy Santa as he handed the children small white boxes, each printed with an American flag and the presidential seal. The small boxes were filled with M&M candies.

Bush and his party earlier visited a ward of adult AIDS patients.

Later, during a brief speech in a packed auditorium, Bush told NIH doctors, nurses and other AIDS workers that ″only together can we wage an all-out war against this terrible killer.″

He praised the health-care workers and said, ″I am with you and extraordinarily grateful for what you are doing.″

Bush called for ″educating Americans who don’t want to help, don’t want to become involved because of a misplaced fear.″

″They’re afraid of holding an AIDS patient because they’re frightened of getting AIDS,″ he said. ″Barbara and I want to say, and we hope we can continue to demonstrate this, they are wrong. They’re simply uninformed. They are wrong about that.″

Bush, Mrs. Bush, Health and Human Services secretary Louis Sullivan and his wife, along with George Bush Jr., flew by helicopter to Bethesda Naval Hospital and were taken across a street by motorcade for the 90-minute visit to NIH.

Just before the presidential party arrived, a military unit of about 30 men in camouflage combat uniforms deployed around the helipad, spacing themselves in a protective formation facing a wooded area, a parking lot and the street.

They remained there in the bitter cold until the president’s helicopter lifted off, taking the presidential party toward Camp David, Md., where Bush will spend Christmas.

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