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Adopted Child With AIDS Admitted to US After Bureaucratic Battle

September 10, 1988

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Sgt. John Maggard and his wife, Kim, have won a long, bureaucratic battle to get their adopted son with AIDS into the United States. Now they face a sterner test: keeping him alive.

Jared Maggard ″has three weeks, three months, three years; we don’t know,″ says his mother. His father says: ″Without a cure, we know Jared will die. Our goal is to give him as much time as possible.″

The miracle the Maggards hope for is a cure for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which Jared had when he was born to a young Panamanian woman and an unknown father.

The AIDS virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to a wide variety of infections and cancers. It is most often transmitted through sexual contact, transfusions of tainted blood and the sharing of contaminated needles by drug abusers. AIDS can also be passed from mother to child at or before birth.

When the Maggards found Jared, abandoned in a hospital in Colon, Panama, they didn’t know he had AIDS. He was 11 months old, weighed 3 1/2 pounds and was being treated for malnutrition. Pictures show skeletal arms and legs, ribs visible beneath thin, stretched skin, eyes sunken in an almost fleshless skull.

Kim, 25, had recently suffered a miscarriage, and she and her husband, a 26-year-old Army policeman then stationed at Fort Gulick on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, fell in love with the child.

The couple, from Ypsilanti, Mich., consulted Army attorneys, hired a Panamanian lawyer and began adoption proceedings. They were quickly granted custody. The adoption became final last Wednesday.

When the Maggards took Jared home from the hospital in December 1986, he also was suffering from an ear infection. His new mother pumped food into him - sugar water, infant formula laced with cereal, canned baby food by the carton.

Jared gained weight, but despite repeated visits to Army clinics, the ear infection persisted. Finally, 11 months later, doctors, puzzled by their inability to cure the infection with standard antibiotics, ran a series of tests. They showed Jared had AIDS.

″There’s no doubt he had it from birth,″ Mrs. Maggard said in a recent interview. ″And children born with AIDS don’t usually live beyond the age of 2. The prognosis is between 2 and 6 years at the most, and there have been only a few cases in which an infected child has reached the age of 6.″

The AIDS-positive test results came back on Sept. 15, 1987, a month before Sgt. Maggard was to begin a new assignment in the United States. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials, the U.S. consul general in Panama and army lawyers told the couple they could not take Jared home with them.

″We were told it was against the law for anyone with AIDS to enter the United States, and, besides, the adoption was not complete at the time,″ says Mrs. Maggard. ″We were told we should give Jared back and forget about it. I wasn’t about to do that.″

Sgt. Maggard extended his tour of duty in Panama for another year rather than leave without his son. But repeated entreaties by the young couple failed to sway a government and military bureaucracy.

On July 4, Willard Scott, the NBC Television weatherman, came to Panama to preside over an Independence Day celebration for U.S. servicemen and women and their families. By chance, he met Mrs. Maggard, who told him of the couple’s plight. NBC aired the story briefly on its nightly news program in early August.

″The next day, the telephone began ringing off the hook,″ says Mrs. Maggard. From those calls, the Maggards say, they learned for the first time of a provision in immigration rules that allow some AIDS victims into the United States on a parole basis.

″We had never heard of that before,″ says Mrs. Maggard. ″Nobody down here had ever told us of that. But the Army was clearly embarrassed, and it suddenly got behind us 100 percent.″

Sgt. Maggard says his commanding officer has told him that he can transfer to any one of four military posts in the United States where the Army has AIDS treatment centers.

He says he will choose within the next week or so whether to go to the Washington, D.C., area, to be near the Walter Reed Medical Center, or to Fort Sam Houston, Tex., where the Army hospital has a ward devoted to AIDS patients.

″In the United States, Jared can be treated with AZT, and that’s not available to Army doctors overseas,″ says Mrs. Maggard. AZT is a new drug recently approved for AIDS treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is not a cure, but has been found to prolong the life of some victims by strengthening their immune systems.

As the Maggards spoke, Jared, now a chubby, outwardly healthy appearing youngster of almost 3 years, played underfoot, jabbering in childish English and his native Spanish, part of a culture his parents say they are bent on preserving for him.

″Everybody remarks about how healthy he looks,″ said Mrs. Maggard. ″But he has a lung infection that won’t clear up, and doctors say there are seven stages in the progression of AIDS. Given the diseases Jared already has had, they figure he is in the fifth or sixth stage.″

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