WEST PALM BEACH, FLA., SEPT. 8 -- A woman who apparently contracted AIDS during a tooth extraction is pleading for tighter controls on health-care workers with the fatal disease.
Kimberly Bergalis said Friday that her dentist's death from the disease will not stop her plans to file a lawsuit.
The national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported in July that the case marked the first time a health professional had passed AIDS to a patient.
Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control interviewed Bergalis three times to determine where she contracted the disease.
"When I was visited by the CDC we kept going over certain things," she said. "I said, 'What about the dentist?' because there was a rumor at the time that he had AIDS. They said they were not investigating that. I never heard from them again."
"I had a lot of crazy thoughts, like maybe I was at the beach and I stepped on a hypodermic needle," Bergalis said. "You just go insane with thought."
CDC officials in Atlanta refused to comment, citing confidentiality rules.
The 22-year-old woman from Fort Pierce said she plans to sue the estate of the dentist, David J. Acer of Stuart, and her health plan, which referred her to the dentist.
"If I can protect other people from what happened to me, then I have to do it," Bergalis said.
Documents filed in state court in Palm Beach described her as being in the advanced stages of AIDS. Her wisdom teeth were pulled by Acer in 1987.
Acer, 40, died Monday, but his death was not made public by his family until Friday.
The family decided not to disclose his death immediately so relatives could "privately grieve," said lawyer Deborah Sawyer.
On Tuesday, the state Health Department released a letter, dated Aug. 31, that Acer wrote to former patients urging them to be tested for AIDS.
Acer said in the letter that he had followed CDC safety guidelines, including consulting his doctor before continuing his practice and wearing gloves and a mask while treating patients.
He said he doubted he was the source of Bergalis's infection.
"I am a gentle man, and I would never intentionally expose anyone to this disease," he wrote.
The letter did not say how long Acer practiced after being diagnosed with AIDS.
Bergalis's lawyer, Robert Montgomery, said he planned to sue Acer's estate and CIGNA Dental Health of Florida. CIGNA referred Bergalis to Acer, who treated about 370 patients belonging to the dental plan.
Bergalis said she was stunned when she was told in December 1989 that she was HIV positive, which meant she had been exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. The illness forced her to withdraw at the time from the University of Florida.
Her legal consultant, cardiologist Sanford Kuvin, said she had no known risk factors.
"There weren't any other areas of my life that could have exposed me to this as far as dating and friends," Bergalis said.
"I was in shock. I was in deep shock."