A federal jury awarded Sean Stentiford, 48, $18.4 million in damages after two former doctors failed to test him for HIV for years in an extremely high risk environment. Stentiford was led to believe that he'd received a negative result on an HIV test when in fact, his samples were never tested for the virus.
Stentiford, a gay man, was already statistically at high risk for exposure to HIV, but as a former paramedic, he was at an even higher risk. Paramedics are routinely exposed to bodily fluids like blood samples.
Stentiford went far too long without being tested for HIV, despite consenting to an HIV test in 2007 after suspicions of becoming sick. But Stentiford's labs were somehow never tested for HIV. It would take another three years until he finally got tested, but by then, it was too late. His CD4 counts were low enough to be considered immune compromised, and the virus was coursing through his blood, causing irreparable harm.
It caused him permanent brain damage — damage that would end his career in law — but not not to the point that he couldn’t fight back with a lawsuit.
Stentiford was represented by David P. Angueira, who reiterated the seriousness of the permanent scars AIDS left on his immune system and brain. “He had a brilliant future in front of him. They literally cut the legs out from under him,” Angueira told The Boston Globe. “He lost his job. He lost his career. He lost his life.”
The two doctors, internist Stephen E. Southard and neurologist Kinan K. Hreib, were found negligent in their caring of Stentiford and caused him harm, court records indicate. A third doctor, infectious disease specialist Daniel P. McQuillen, was deemed negligent as well but not resulting in harm.
Stentiford underwent a series of tests at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts after suffering from partial face paralysis. But somehow, no one managed to test him for HIV, even though he filled out forms to do so. Stentiford wanted to get tested for HIV after people around him suggested that his symptoms were indicative of HIV.
Sexually active gay men need to be tested at least once a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Men who have sex with men who are in the receptive role (i.e. bottoms) are 18 times higher risk than women who have sex with men. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk, of course, but it helps to understand what’s at stake.
Fortunately, Stentiford has bounced back to good health and no longer suffers from AIDS-related symptoms thanks to currently available medication, his lawyer said.
HIV is relatively treatable, but only if it is caught within a reasonable amount of time. Without the constant protection of antiretrovirals, there is a very high risk that the virus will advance to symptomatic HIV.
Southard and Hreib no longer practice at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, but McQuillen was able to keep his current position. According to reports, Stentiford was “numb” after hearing the ruling in his favor.