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Marine Feels Mixture of Rage, Relief After Winning Landmark AIDS Case

May 7, 1990

BOSTON (AP) _ When a judge ruled in favor of Martin Gaffney in his AIDS lawsuit against the U.S. government, the Marine warrant officer didn’t do much celebrating.

Instead, he left the South Weymouth Naval Air Station where he is a computer specialist and drove to Nantasket Beach. There he found a deserted strip of sand to walk along and think.

″I just kind of turned to the ocean and breathed a sigh of relief,″ said Gaffney, 40, whose legal battle ended April 26 when a judge ruled that negligence by Navy doctors in 1981 led to Gaffney’s wife contracting the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion. She died in 1987.

Gaffney also lost a 13-month-old son to the disease and has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, although he shows no symptoms.

Along with relief he feels rage, he said.

The veteran officer’s loyalty toward the military soured after he sued the government. Gaffney, a chief warrant officer, is still bitter about FBI investigations into his background and what he says has been rudeness and betrayal on the part of Navy officials.

″At first I was pretty angry,″ he said. ″I felt disgust that it had taken four years to get to this point. Then I just wished Mutsuko would have been here to share it.″

The family’s ordeal began in 1981 when Gaffney’s Japanese-born wife, Mutsuko, entered the Long Beach Naval Hospital to have a baby.

Gaffney’s suit claimed Navy doctors botched his wife’s pregnancy by failing to perform a Caesarean section when Mrs. Gaffney was two weeks late in delivering the baby. The baby, a boy, was eventually stillborn and Mrs. Gaffney required a blood transfusion. The blood she was given was contaminated with the AIDS virus.

If a Caesarean had been performed in time, the judge said, a blood transfusion would not have been necessary.

Mrs. Gaffney, 38, died a year before Gaffney filed the $55 million suit in U.S. District Court in Boston. The couple’s son, John, died of AIDS in 1986.

A second trial has been ordered to determine the amount of damages. The case is expected to encourage others who believe they contracted the AIDS virus through medical malpractice to sue. A date for the trial has not been set.

Only 6-year-old Maureene Gaffney has escaped infection. It was the uncertainty over her future that led Gaffney to sue.

″I feel confident that Maureene will be taken care of,″ said Gaffney, who has made plans for his daughter to live with his brother’s family in Lowell if necessary.

For now, Gaffney lives with his daughter in base housing. When they moved there, base officials barred her from the day care center until Sen. Edward M. Kennedy intervened on Maureene’s behalf.

Maureene was admitted recently to a prestigious private school over 11 other applicants. Gaffney said she sees a therapist regularly to cope with the loss of her mother and brother. He said she is aware that her father is infected with the virus, although they don’t discuss it.

Gaffney said that he has been too busy ″with mundane things″ and the lawsuit since he was diagnosed HIV positive to think much about his own future.

″I’m ready for what’s going to happen as far as my own health going downhill and I’m ready to prepare for it,″ he said. ″I wanted justice before I left the world and before I started to deteriorate.″

Although his doctors recommended he take the drug AZT, which can slow the progress of the virus, Gaffney has so far refused it. As long as he is healthy, he said, ″I see no reason to take medication.″

Gaffney said that he used to feel so sad and bitter that he only wanted to live long enough to hear a verdict in his favor. But now he’s changed his mind.

″If I was given a choice of going to wherever you go and being with my wife and sons or staying with my daughter, I’d stay here with her,″ he said.

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