VOLUME 6, NUMBER 7 REAPPRAISING AIDS                   JULY 1998

A Case of
AIDS Caused by AZT?

Denver's mandatory HIV screening for pregnant women resulted in a positive diagnosis for Kris Chmiel, who had been healthy and unknowingly positive for probably 21 years. Doctors convinced her to begin AZT therapy and, after ten months, she developed many conditions that her physicians diagnosed as AIDS and blamed on HIV. The AIDS conditions persisted until she decided to stop taking AZT. Within weeks of stopping, all the AIDS conditions disappeared. That was more than a year ago, and she remains AIDS-free. Is this a case of AIDS caused by AZT? Chmiel thinks so. She now believes that HIV is totally harmless, and that in addition to anti-HIV pharmaceuticals, factors like street drugs and malnutrition explain illnesses in people diagnosed with AIDS. She is working to repeal mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women, and to dispel the notion that AZT therapy is a rational course of action for pregnant HIV-positive women.

Kris Chmiel of Denver had no AIDS symptoms in June, 1995, when, at the age of 30, her doctors diagnosed her as HIV-positive following a mandatory screening process for pregnant women in Colorado. She had no AIDS four months later, in November, 1995, when her doctors persuaded her to begin what they intended to be a life-long ritual: consuming 100 mg of AZT five times a day.

And she had no AIDS during the five remaining months of her pregnancy, while she continued taking AZT. But five months after that, in October, 1996 -- ten months into her AZT regimen -- she developed many chronic conditions: diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, fever, influenza symptoms, and night sweats. "I felt like I had a horrible flu that wouldn't go away," she recalls. "And I kept developing infections." At her next scheduled visit, after about a month of being sick, her physicians blamed everything on HIV.

"They said it [the HIV] had mutated into a form that was resistant to AZT," she recalls. According to them, she had AIDS. So they added to her therapy another nucleoside analog, 3TC. Her AIDS conditions immediately worsened. And no wonder. All nucleoside analogs block the production not just of retroviral DNA, but also of human DNA. Thus they kill immune cells, red blood cells, the lining of the digestive tract, fetal cells, and mitochondria -- the "factories" inside cells which produce energy.

But she kept taking both drugs, because they suppressed what she considered to be the source of her worsening problems: HIV. It never occurred to her that it might be the medications, not the HIV, that was causing her AIDS. The drugs ran out in December, 1996, about two months after her symptoms began (12 months into her AZT therapy). "I didn't renew my prescriptions," she says. "My skin had started turning yellow with jaundice. I knew that was from the drugs. My father developed jaundice before dying of liver failure caused by his heart medications. So I knew what jaundice looked like, and I knew that medications that save you from one condition can kill you by destroying your liver."

Since the drugs weren't working against AIDS, she figured she'd quit the drugs and go from having AIDS with jaundice to just having AIDS.

Instead, the impossible happened. "Almost immediately -- within just a few days -- I started feeling much better. I had more energy. I stopped feeling sick. Sometime in January, 1997, all my symptoms disappeared. And I haven't been sick since." That was a year and a half ago. "I don't think I was ever sick from HIV," she says of the illnesses her doctors diagnosed as AIDS. "I think I had AZT poisoning. I no longer believe that HIV causes AIDS, or anything else."

Her baby daughter, Rachael, tested negative six weeks after birth, and again at six months. Rachael was born free of any AIDS conditions, and has remained so. Kris disregarded Rachael's six-week, post-birth prescriptions for liquid AZT and Septrim. "I stopped giving them to her after three days," she says. "I just didn't feel comfortable doing it. I feel lucky Rachael wasn't killed by the AZT I took during pregnancy. The doctors want to test her for HIV again. But I don't care about HIV anymore. I'm not concerned about her HIV status. I'm only concerned about any lingering effects of the AZT she was poisoned with while I was pregnant."

Although Rachael has never developed any AIDS conditions, she was born with an enlarged cranium. "It's in the 120th percentile," Kris says.

Healthy and positive for 21 years

Chmiel and her doctors trace her positive HIV status to a blood transfusion she received for an emergency appendectomy, in 1974, when she was nine years old. Her husband Paul Kucken, a kitchen manager at a popular Denver restaurant, tests negative, as does their oldest daughter, Natalie, born in 1994. Chmiel and Kucken describe their eight-year relationship as "exclusive" and as characterized by regular, unprotected sex throughout.

The uninformed might think that Paul's HIV-negative status suggests that Chmiel probably has been HIV-positive for only a short while, and that this could explain her AIDS-free status. After all, HIV is a presumably sexually transmitted microbe, and it is unlikely that a person suffering from such an infection would fail to transmit it during eight years of regular unprotected sex. But this reasoning is flawed.

Although it is popular to think of HIV as a sexually transmitted microbe, unprotected vaginal intercourse rarely -- if ever -- transmits it. The characterization of HIV as a sexually transmitted microbe was established in 1984, years before appropriate studies were conducted. The official average unprotected vaginal transmission frequency for HIV is 0.1%, or one per thousand acts. That makes it entirely possible for Chmiel to have been HIV-positive the entire duration of her long relationship with Paul.

Chmiel cites the 1974 transfusion as her only HIV risk exposure. A hepatitis bout when she was a teenager was also traced to that same transfusion, making it particularly conspicuous as a possible source of her positive HIV status. Her 1995 HIV test was the first she'd ever taken, so there is no record of Chmiel ever having been negative. She took that test solely to fulfill the Colorado law requiring pregnant women to submit to HIV testing. "I was fine," Chmiel explains. "There was no reason to think I might have AIDS or HIV. The only reason I tested is that Colorado had just passed a law requiring HIV-testing for all pregnant women."

At the time her doctors administered that HIV test, then, Chmiel had probably been positive for 21 years without knowing it. Despite the popular view that HIV causes AIDS and transmits coitally, HIV had failed to cause AIDS during the 21 years since her transfusion, and had failed to transmit to her husband during eight years of regular unprotected sex.

In comparison, it took only ten months for Chmiel to develop "full-blown AIDS" while consuming AZT. Because her AIDS disappeared within days of discontinuing that therapy, and has stayed away now for the year and a half that she's been off "anti-HIV" pharmaceuticals, her story illustrates the view that AIDS results from drug consumption, not HIV infection.

Taking action

Chmiel has become an active member of HEAL-Denver, and is leading that group's charge to repeal Colorado's mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women. "The doctors scared me into taking AZT by telling me that it cuts in half the 25% probability that my child would be born HIV-positive," she explains. "But this is only at a cost of poisoning all children of HIV-positive mothers with AZT. Even if HIV did cause AIDS, this wouldn't make sense. I read a study (Kumar, Journal of AIDS 7:1034, 1994) in which 23% of 104 pregnant women taking AZT experienced spontaneous abortions, required medicinal abortions, or produced children like mine who have birth defects."

Kris Chmiel is angry at how zealously doctors push their HIV-positive patients to take AZT and other highly toxic "anti-HIV" drugs. At HEAL functions and other public assemblies she spreads the message about what she considers the AIDS-causing toxicity of AZT and narcotics, HIV's innocuous nature, and the noninfectious character of most AIDS conditions.

She thinks no one should take HIV tests. "The doctors want to test Rachael one more time for HIV. The tests at six weeks and six months were negative. They say they can't be sure until 18 months, which is her current age. I let them test her before I knew better. Now I know better. I won't let them lay a hand on Rachael again."