Monday, February 20, 2006

Christine Maggiore’s Response to the Above Article
To be published in the March 2006 edition of Zenger's Newsmagazine

Thank you for publishing your insightful analysis of the ABC PrimeTime segment on the tragic death of my daughter Eliza Jane[Zenger’s #125, January 2006]. . I noticed one small error of substantial significance in an otherwise superb article and would appreciate an opportunity to correct that misunderstanding and clarify a few related points.

Under the subhead “To Test, or Not to Test,” Zenger’s reports that I “irritated mainstream [AIDS] representatives” by “refus[ing] to disclose [my] HIV status to Eliza Jane's treating physicians or to have Eliza Jane tested.” While it is true that my informed decisions about testing and treatment have angered faithful followers of mainstream AIDS dogma, the notion that I withheld information about my testing history from any of our family’s doctors is false. This erroneous idea has apparently taken hold at high levels and is one of many baseless assertions that drive the ongoing police investigation into my daughter’s death.

In reality, all three of Eliza Jane’s pediatricians have known my HIV testing status since our initial visit, and two have read my book challenging conventional thinking on AIDS. The notion that I opposed orders to have Eliza Jane tested is also false — none of our pediatricians ever recommended that E.J. or her brother Charlie take a so-called HIV test. I attribute their admirable position on this matter to a long-standing practice of respect for a parent’s right to informed decisions and to our family’s long-standing record of excellent health.

Further on in the same paragraph, Zenger’s quotes Captain Ed Winter of the Coroner’s Department of Investigations, who suggests I should be charged with negligence for failing to volunteer my HIV status to his office. From what I understand, the duty of a coroner is to determine a cause and manner of death based on a thorough and unprejudiced examination of all physical evidence pertaining to the deceased. Since my HIV status does not affect the physical evidence and should not influence the interpretation of medical data in the case, the only negligence I see is on the part of the coroner’s office in determining a cause of death that defies their own findings at autopsy and disregards the established medical literature. Pneumonia is defined as “inflammation of the lung caused by disease” and their autopsy clearly states there was “no inflammation” of my daughter?s lungs. Their report also fails to explain the manner of my daughter's death and contains no evidence that she ever lacked oxygen.

With regard to remarks Zenger’s cites from coroner James K Ribe’s interview with ABC News, although correctly quoted, Ribe’s sensational statement about finding “the AIDS virus in the middle of Eliza’s brain” is false and without scientific merit. The slide Ribe shared with television viewers showed a tissue sample that responded positively to testing for p24, a non-specific protein associated with HIV that in no way equates with or substitutes for the finding of actual virus. Ribe’s claim that Eliza Jane had “a viral [encephalitis] infection of the brain” is also without medical basis, defying all medical records, including Ribe’s own. A CAT scan done at the emergency room shows no swelling or damage to her brain, and fluid from a spinal tap performed that night was clear. More to the point, Ribe’s autopsy report confirms there was no damage to or swelling of the brain, and notes that even after months of attempts, no microbe ever grew in her spinal fluid culture.

The most ridiculous remarks by Ribe went unaired, however, after ABC News agreed he contradicted medical and hospital records as well as his own autopsy report. Included among Ribe’s more bizarre statements: Eliza Jane’s lungs were “full of herpes lesions” when no lesions of any kind were found in her lungs at autopsy or in microscopic examination of lung tissue; that my daughter had shrunk into the third percentile for growth when all records, including the autopsy report, refute that notion; that she was severely immune compromised when medical records show no clinical symptoms of immune suppression and Ribe’s report shows a higher than normal lymphocyte count; and that due to lack of immunity, her body stopped growing while her head increased in size, deforming her into some kind of midget monster. Aside from having no medical evidence to substantiate this cruel and outrageous portrayal of Eliza Jane, the photos of my daughter posted at tell another story.

At this point readers may ask what part truth plays in autopsy conclusions, police investigations, and the justice system. Some unsettling answers are a mere Google search away where less-than-major media cover other cases involving the sudden death of children. These underreported stories reveal a systemic willingness to stray outside the bounds of medical evidence and underplay the devastating consequences to families who’ve suffered unfathomable loss upon unfathomable loss. A barely mentioned news item from this February 9 notes that a U.S. court of appeals overturned the conviction of a grandmother charged in the death of her infant grandson by SBS, that other vacant syndrome, “Shaken Baby.” In Smith v. Mitchell, prosecutors armed with dubious evidence supplied by the LA County Coroner insisted that shaking caused the child’s death “even though the physical examination of the brain during and after autopsy could not demonstrate that fact.” Citing a lack of sufficient medical evidence and miscarriage of justice, the court finally threw out the charges. We are left to imagine — if we dare — the pain and suffering endured by this family and wonder what, if any, punishment awaits the real perpetrators of injustice.

Mirroring many aspects of my own case is that of Sally Clark, a U.K. mother recently exonerated after serving three years of a life sentence for the alleged murder of her toddler son. Based on the prejudicial assumption that Clark caused the child’s sudden death, the coroner reported evidence subsequently found to be nonexistent, misinterpreted data to favor his predetermined conclusions, and withheld laboratory results showing the boy died of septicemia, not smothering as he had accused. To anyone following my story, the Clark case may sound familiar: Based on a prejudicial assumption (my lack of adherence to AIDS dogma allegedly caused my daughter’s sudden death), the coroner cites a fatal case of pneumonia (despite missing evidence of inflammation), misinterprets data to favor his conclusion (the reduced size of Eliza Jane’s thymus gland supposedly indicates AIDS while a smaller thymus in another deceased child in another Ribe autopsy goes unreported as a sign of anything), and withholds laboratory results during the police investigation (the coroner's office has yet to provide our attorney with information on what HIV-related diagnostics were performed on Eliza Jane post mortem).

Will I end up in the slammer like grieving mom Sally Clark? Or spend years seeking justice like grandma Smith? In a world where newspapers, news shows and coroners act with so little regard for facts, it’s hard to say. But as long as truth still rules the day at publications like Zenger’s, I may stand a chance of surviving the unfathomable accusations and the unfathomable loss.

Thank you for pointing out the many flaws and fallacies in the mainstream take on my family’s tragedy and for allowing me to share further insights on the topic with Zenger’s readers.

Christine Maggiore
Los Angeles