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Widow Says Surgeon Killed by AIDS Felt Risk of Infecting Patients was Small

December 8, 1990

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A surgeon who died of AIDS continued to treat patients with breast cancer after learning he had the disease because he felt the good he did them outweighed the chance he could infect them, his widow said.

Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, a widely respected surgeon at Johns Hopkins died Nov. 16 of AIDS, never telling his patients or the hospital of his illness.

″The risks (of infecting patients) are minimal,″ said his wife, Betty Almaraz. ″My husband saved many, many lives, weighted against the infinitesimal risk.″

Johns Hopkins is sending letters to about 1,800 patients on whom Almaraz operated, offering them AIDS testing and counseling, but cautioning them that the chance of infection is very small.

The case also has prompted the hospital to consider supporting a new state law requiring health care workers to tell their supervisors or hospitals if they are infected with communicable diseases.

Betty Almaraz said her husband feared ″his loss of dignity, his loss of practice″ if he revealed that he had AIDS. But he consulted federal health officials and doctors who cared for him and followed their recommendations for continuing to practice safely.

″He was concerned about creating mountains out of molehills,″ he said. ″There was no need to alarm these people.″

Almaraz’s lawyer, Marvin Ellin, has said the doctor got the disease during an operation on an AIDS patient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in 1983. The patient’s blood squirted into Almaraz’s eyes and mouth, Ellin said.

The hospital says he never reported the exposure during the six months he was there.

AIDS is most commonly transmitted through homosexual contact, the sharing of needles in intravenous drugs or in a blood transfusion.

Betty Almaraz said her husband didn’t contract AIDS by any of those means.

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