HIV Scare The Whitman-Walker Clinic told Terry Hedgepeth he had the disease—even though he didn’t. Now he’s looking for payback.

Clinical Condition: Whitman-Walker says HIV test mistakes are a thing of the past.
Darrow Montgomery

As Terry Hedgepeth walked the streets of the District in October 2002, the 42-year-old prayed for a bullet. The D.C. sniper was terrifying the area with random shootings. And Hedgepeth hoped to become part of the carnage. He wanted to die.

By then, it had been two years since Hedgepeth got what he thought was a death sentence anyway. In late 2000, he had dropped his girlfriend off near Georgetown University Hospital, where she frequently had errands to run. They’d been living together in Capitol Hill for about a year, after a whirlwind romance that began when they met at a party. Hedgepeth often drove his lady to Georgetown, but she was always a little vague on why. This time, he managed to find a parking spot, and followed her into a building. He didn’t see her, but he looked around: He was in a clinic, with lots of pamphlets. They were all about sexually transmitted diseases. His stomach fell.

When his girlfriend emerged from a back room, he confronted her. “She tried to deny everything at first,” Hedgepeth says. When they got home, he kept asking about the clinic, and she finally told him what was going on: “I found out that she had been HIV-positive for, like, eight years.”

Hedgepeth went into shock. He figured he was screwed. “You sleep with a person that has HIV, and then you have it,” he thought. Just to be sure, he wanted to get an AIDS test.

He’d heard of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, so on Dec. 13, 2000, he went to get checked out. Eventually, Dr. Mary Fanning came in with bad news: His results were positive. The trauma of the last few months caught up with him, and he broke down—and shortly afterwards, wound up in a psychiatric ward.

Once he was out, Whitman-Walker took charge of his treatment. About every three months, the clinic’s staff would test his blood. Medically, he was doing remarkably well: No signs of infection.

But outside the clinic, his life was falling apart. He broke up with his girlfriend and moved out. Ashamed of what his family would think, he’d cut off all ties with them—so he had nowhere to stay. He moved into a house Whitman-Walker maintained for homeless patients, with three HIV-positive roommates; he started sleeping with one, a woman he found attractive, figuring he was already positive.

Hedgepeth watched friends he’d met through the clinic get skinny and sick. Though his blood still showed no signs of infection, he was sure he was losing weight and getting weak. His roommate moved to Phoenix, leaving him alone again. Depressed, he wound up back in the psych ward, where doctors put him on Zoloft, Ambien, Trazodone and Wellbutrin. He rarely worked, drifting in and out of housing. Though he’d “dabbled” in cocaine in the past, he started using it more intensely. “That was my way to go out,” he says. All he wanted was to die of something—anything—besides AIDS, so his family wouldn’t know he was infected.

As it turned out, though, he wasn’t.

For four years, Hedgepeth had been showing up at Whitman-Walker regularly, but he was never sick enough to go on any HIV medication. “Some people, it takes a little longer,” he says the staff told him. Eventually, a friend suggested he forego conventional treatment and try holistic medicine. So he visited the Abundant Life Clinic in Southeast, where doctors did a routine blood test—and found he didn’t have HIV.

“He sat there in disbelief for a minute or two and then he cried,” Abundant Life’s Dr. Abdul Muhammad would later testify. “And you could see just the pain and just the relief that came. And I teared up, myself. Because it is like a man being released from prison, being exonerated—because that’s what the diagnosis of HIV is like. It is like a sentence that locks you into a certain mentality, a certain status. And he was just freed.”

Another test at Johns Hopkins University Hospital confirmed Hedgepeth was negative. So he sued Whitman-Walker Clinic in 2005, seeking $20 million in damages. “Plaintiff has suffered damages which include, but are not limited to, severe emotional distress and anxiety, physical damages including loss of weight, loss of contact with friends and family, commitment to psychiatric facilities, severe and persistent depression and suicidal ideation, past present and future lost earnings, damage to his reputation, and the loss of nearly four years of normal life,” his lawyer, Jonathan Dailey, wrote in the complaint.

What had happened, according to court documents, was a perfect storm of medical errors. There are usually two tests for HIV: the Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), and the Western Blot. After a positive ELISA, the Western Blot is taken to confirm. But before Hedgpeth had his blood drawn, his chart had been labeled HIV-positive.

“Relying at least in part on [Hedgepeth’s] self-report, the intake worker made a notation in his file that he was HIV-positive,” court documents say. “The test administered...was ‘non-reactive,’ meaning [Hedgepeth] was not HIV-positive. [Whitman-Walker Clinic] admits that because of an erroneous interpretation of the negative test report, a ‘client lab results’ form showed [him] as testing positive for HIV.” A lab technician had entered the wrong result onto the summary page in Hedgepeth’s chart. Fanning, court records say, had the negative lab results, but still told Hedgepeth he was positive—noting that he was asymptomatic with a “normal” viral load. The clinic also completed a form saying Hedgepeth was eligible for the Ryan White program, which provides money for HIV treatment, and another that would make public funding available for medication. That form states Hedgepeth had a viral load increase of 30 percent or greater within the previous year, that he required a protease inhibitor, and that he was taking two HIV drugs—Combivir and Crixivan. None of which was true.

Hedgepeth thought he had an airtight medical negligence suit. In fact, his case was tossed out of D.C. Superior Court last year. Judge Robert E. Morin ruled, and a three-judge Court of Appeals panel also found, that Hedgepeth can’t sue Whitman-Walker, because he wasn’t physically harmed. The ruling hinged on a 1990 decision that patients can only sue for malpractice if they’re in a “zone of danger.” If Hedgepeth had taken HIV medication, the courts said, he could have sued—because then he could have proven harm.

Of course, he never had to take any medication, because he never had HIV. Hedgepeth could still win; last month, the Court of Appeals held an en banc hearing before the full court, which could lead the “zone of danger” precedent to be overturned. Dailey says he’s “100 percent” confident they’ll win.

Whitman-Walker spokesman Chip Lewis says he can’t discuss the case while it’s in court. But in its filings, the clinic says the saga isn’t all its fault. It can’t take responsibility for the mistakes of others, or for Hedgepeth’s breakdown: “Plaintiffs claimed losses, damages, or injuries, if any, were caused or contributed to by persons, conditions or events unrelated to and/or not under the control of [the clinic] and for which [Whitman-Walker] is not responsible.” Besides, Lewis says, it can’t happen again: “Whitman-Walker Clinic is committed to providing our patients with accurate and timely diagnosis and treatment. Our health center team works each and every day to ensure that patients receive high quality, affirming care. Since this incident 10 years ago, we have used advances in medical technology, including HIV testing, to improve the quality of care we provide to our patients.”

Meanwhile, Hedgepeth says he’s not angry about what happened to him—just confused. And, he says, the lawsuit isn’t about the money—it’s about righting a wrong. “I can’t figure out why it happened,” he says. “I can’t figure out why they treated me that way.”

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Our Readers Say

If it isn't about the money, than why is the plaintiff seeking $20 million dollars? Does the plaintiff plan on donating any monies received to AIDS prevention and awareness?

I feel bad that this happened to him but if I was diagnosed with something even remotely serious as HIV, I would have been re-tested several times to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Yes, it sounds like he suffered horribly, but $20 million? Unless he has more health issues now, I'm not sure why he would be disabled for life at this point.
I feel bad for Mr. Hedgepeth and his experience. However, tests do sometimes fail or are misread. I agree with that type of diagnosis, you get a second...a preganancy is good example of better double check. One other thing that struck me is his total isolation from his family. Guy seems a bit unstable. My family would be the first people I would have turned too to help me cope. Then maybe one would have suggested a second opinion. Also, his ex-girlfriend is a self-centered scum bag. How can some one do that to another human being?
I cannot believe that people are commenting about the fact that he is seeking money damages - HE WAS GIVEN A DEATH SENTENCE, with no regard for standard medical protocol. And you have the gall to question is motivation to be made "whole" after he tried to commit suicide and was twice committed to a psychiatric ward? I hope he gets more than $20 million -- I'd give up that amount of money in a heartbeat to avoid what he went through for four years. And guess what - you are blaming him for NOT second-guessing the top HIV clinic in DC? That's ridiculous. I'm ashamed for the public that blames this poor man for believing his doctor. Next time my doctor says I have cancer, I'll get a second, a many more opinions before I'm not to blame?
And oh yeah, this is the logo on the website of Whitman Walker Clinic:


Our mission is to be the highest quality, culturally competent community health center serving greater Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care, and with a special expertise in LGBT and HIV care.

For more information, e-mail us at

Did you notice the quote "special expertise...HIV care."? Give me a break for those who dare to blame this man.

I normally wouldn't even comment on stuff like this but I have too!! I really what to see people say what they wouldn't do.If that stuff happened to ANYBODY they would be doing the same.When a person is wrongfully jailed for a crime they didn't do.When they get out.They are awarded for millions for each year they were wrongfully incarcerated.What makes this case any different.Walt Whitmans and there doctors screwed up!! They should pay!! None of you were in Mr.Hedgepeths mind to know what turmoil he went through!! What his family and kids went through.Not knowing if Daddy was going to LIVE or die!! Having afamily members or friend scared to touch you,kiss you and go to the bathroom after you.When you're at someones house they throwing the Silverware away that you used!! People not wanting to talk to you anymore.So,before you pass judgement on someone else and there motives.PUT YOU BUTT IN THERE SHOES!!Mr,Hedgepeth,I hope you and your family gets ALL that you deserve. Thanks..
I would sue.
They're ALL false "positives"!
I for one hope this guy gets EVERY penny of it. It also happens to explain just how awfully flawed the systematic, this dead and dying, HIV and AIDS cult really is. Wake up and start asking questions!
So this guy would threaten AIDS care for the entire DC community so that he could get his twenty million dollars. I doubt if he paid for his care at Whitman-Walker. But now he wants to cash out.

There are many, many problems with healthcare in this country. One of the worst is that people who don't pay for it, demanding something for nothing, then turn around and sue when something goes wrong - or even when the outcome is bad.

I pay for my insurance. And I'm tired of seeing my rates go up because other people don't pay for their healthcare...and then turn around and sue.
okay so straight man finds out he's positive. I know plenty of gay people who choose to cope with the fact that they've contracted the virus, who get help, who take ownership over their status and research treatment, who seek out community once they find out they are positive. The man in this story is obviosuly constructing his case against the cclinic by asking others to sympathize with his privilege to heterosexual-based HIV panic. While Whitman-Walker was certainly wrong, the fact that this man waited 4 years to get a second opinion, all the while crusading on a suicidal binge, choosing to use illegal drugs and make bad choices just a little ridiculous. There's no mention of support groups above, but I guess that's just too touchy-feely for a straight guy to get involved in, right? Straight guys should kill themselves rather than deal with the obvious issues that come with being HIV positive, which everyone knows, in DC, is more than prevalent in the gay community. And we should sympathize and pay him for his suffering because hallelujah, he's not like the gays, he never really had it, even though, hell he bothered to sleep with a positive person after he found out he was infected, which, anyone with the disease can tell you, is actually not a good thing to do, because you get re-infected which is also unhealthy. Can anyone answer why if you are a hetero man and you are ashamed to say you've contracted HIV, that's okay?
We often judge people and make cruel comments without knowing all the facts. Some times we need to have walked in their shoes and feel the pain that they are going through before forming our opinion. He should be able to get more than 20 million dollars, even though it will not bring back the wasted years that he had to suffer and his family and friends had to go through.
People! People just stop and think about what happened. Now, stop and think about it happening to you! Do you want to be judged by others. OH! Yes, you would be judged, no matter what some people might say to your face behind your back is a total different story. The depression state alone to me is worth fifty millon or more because he has to have treatment for depression. His mental health is now an on going problem that must be maintained. I find some of these comments to be so astonishing that some people don't think that there should be some atonement to the patient. This man is just another case that MUST NOT be seen as or treated as atypical cause. GIVE HIM THE MONEY! If he does give it away allow him to opporunity to make that decision. I know this person and he is a person with a very gentle soul and has always took ours under his shield of protection. I understand how he must feel to loose his spirit. Yes, I have to state this again give him fifty million for his pain and suffering because he does deserve it!
Mr. Hedgepeth deserves to be compensated for the mistakes of the clinic be it $20 million or $1 million. The fact of the matter is the clinic misdiagnosed results and should be responsible for accuracy. It is apparent the clinic had every intention to collect on their false reporting and did. According to documented records the clinic reported Hedgepeth as receiving medication, etc. for treatment as well as funding for housing Hedgepeth in one of it's facilities. It is my opinion that it would have only been a matter of time before the clinic would have administered the drugs to Hedgepeth. I hope the board of medical society is thoroughly reviewing the case files of all clients of this clinic. The clinic was wrong and need to be held accountable for this. BTW Hedgepeth health has suffered---mentally.
I'm not saying that nothing should be done about Whitman, but once again, you look at the facts of the story, and you just can't deny the fact that he did not seek out a second opinion when he FIRST noticed that the clinic was telling him they couldn't detect HIV in his blood -- it is any functional person's responsibility to go out and get a second opinion. Depression aside, there was no physical condition or dependence on outside transport services that could have prevented him from going to another doctor during that time. Once again I repeat that the man had a job and could have gone to see someone sooner than 4 years after the fact. this story glamorizes his emotional stress as the reason for the his lack of initiative -- using depression as a sort of ambiguous negotiator for his lack of agency is a total copout
Ummm...wrong choices? You must be the attorney for Walt Whitman huh? You are totally arrogant as heck!! Walt Whitman and there doctors SCREWED UP PERIOD!!! They knew EXACTLY what they were doing and got caught!! Pay up and shut up!!
Terry's the victim of medical malpractice and deserves some kind of compensation for that. But some of his problems stem from extreme stigma and ignorance surrounding AIDS. It is sad to hear how he cut himself off from his family due to shame because of his disease.
1. The patient did nothing wrong.

2. It can be useful to remember that a leading cause of medical malpractice claims is medical malpractice. In this case the doctor looked at a (mistaken) HIV-positive notation on the patient’s intake chart, and a (correct) HIV-negative lab result. A doctor who was responsible and competent would probably have seen the discrepancy and taken some time to get the story straight before giving any news to the patient. To do otherwise appears to be a shockingly lazy and unprofessional response to an otherwise simple records mix-up. For whatever reason, the doctor chose to ignore the lab result. If there was a sound reason to do that, it will certainly come out in court in defense of the doctor and the clinic. Right now it appears that the doctor's sole decision to not bother sorting out the confusion was what transformed this records error into a life-changing event for the patient. It is usually considered fair to hold someone responsible for harm caused by their unprofessional conduct in a setting where everyone had a right to expect fully professional conduct. Blaming the patient for this is unconscionable.

3. Whitman-Walker really ought to provide better oversight and accountability for their volunteer physicians. This doctor appears to have been at fault in what could be charitably described as grossly unprofessional carelessness, but the doctor is probably not alone in donating free clinical time while keeping one eye on monitoring their paying job, and one eye on calculating the tax deductions they’ll get for donating large chunks of free professional time. It is little wonder that doctors can be distracted or have other concerns on their mind, but when combined with a tendency toward not caring about the patient this is a troublesome mix. If Whitman-Walker wants to have fully engaged medical professionals they might need to actually hire and pay their doctors to ensure they remain focused, accountable, and responsible. At least they should provide some oversight to ensure that their volunteers are paying attention and behaving professionally. Otherwise the clinic’s many financial donors will probably be surprised to learn just how low the professional standards for patient care can be.

4. The City Paper might also be interested in finding out if this doctor is still practicing at Whitman-Walker, or perhaps practicing HIV care at this level of quality somewhere else in the DC area.
I have carefully read everyone comment about Mr. Hedgepeth and no one care about his state of mind today. Yes Mr. Hedgepeth should receive $20 million or more for what he went through because depression robs you of everything. You can't think with depression and the amount of medication he was on I doubt if he could think straight to get a second opinon. Yes doctor and clinics do make mistake and it can cause someone life. I still remember what they did to military men with LSD too and other diseases. So unless you been there whether you are gay or straight, don't judge anyone unless you want to judge for your action too. Mr. Hedgepeth should receive and get whatever he has coming to him.
UM for those of yall that have something negitvie to say might as well not have commented, if it was your ass getting the money you wounldnt feel that way.Talkimg about what you would and wouldnt do,Shut that shit up.It didnt happen to yall it happen to MR TERRY HEDGEPETH .Got it not yall 4 yrs of this mans life is gone 5 or 10 test can change the fact the clinic messed up this is a very serious matter forget everything this man loss just worried about how much he's getting why and what he plans to do with it thats very selfish and inconsiderate.
A Google search shows that the same doctor is still working at Whitman Walker Clinic. Can that be right? Is that what usually happens? It sounds like the clinic might still be facing a really big lawsuit over this mistake, so it's hard to understand why the person is still there?
Google also shows that a doctor with the same name runs all AIDS work for the US Embassy in southern Africa, but that must be a completely different person.
This guy is a TOTAL IDIOT and needs to learn responsibility for his own care. I too was misdiagnosed with HIV. I work for a hospital. Obtained a needle stick. Had the test performed. Had to worry for TWO WEEKS for my result. The nurse came in and said... you're a contractor so you really can't be treated here, but you have HIV. Then she walked out. That was it! I walked out, IMMEDIATELY told my roommate at the time and then found a place to be tested. I tried W.W. but they were closed and only tested at certain times. I drove and called everywhere I could think of to get A SECOND TEST FOR SOMETHING SO SERIOUS... people and test make mistakes. Finally, I was able to tell my story to the health clinic and they quickly slid me in. I had to wait ANOTHER TWO WEEKS for results. FINALLY, the western blot came back negative. As it turns out... I had an infection from a newly pierced ear!
That was the worst month of my life. BUT I would have NEVER allowed a one time FREE test to give me such traggic information without taking the time and RESPONSIBILITY to verify the results. Not to mention, anyone above a 5th grade education should know that ALL medical test are subject to error! THIS PERSON IS AN IDIOT AND TOTALLY AT FAULT FOR ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN TO HIM. If he should unbelievably win this case, I hope he never truely needs to utilize W.W. or anyother HIV relief center. They are completely underfunded as it is and he just possibly sentenced someone else to death when the clinic has to refuse care due to lack of funds! Did I mention this guy is an IDIOT!
I'd like to respond to the "what an idiot" comment. It is people like this that make the United States such a horrible place to live. By his/her logic, every time a medical diagnosis is given, we as patients should be forced to get tested...then retested...then retested..right? I mean, if he's serious, that these tests are so often wrong, how can we possibly know if the 1st, 2nd or 3rd test was correct? This person has an IQ of below 140 -- I'll guarantee everyone who reads these comments of that. And did this idiot mention in is idiotic comment that, in fact, the tests for HIV were NEGATIVE, but it was the doctor who failed to even look at his chart at WWC for the results?! I followed this case as I have known friends who were misdiagnosed with cancer -- they suffered terrible wounds; and yes, some of them sought out a 2nd opinion and had the resources to do so. But for this judgmental, narrow-minded, pathetic excuse for a human being to blame a person who has been mis-diagnosed with a deadly disease for the mis-diagnosis has demonstrated that he/she, clearly, should walk in the shoes of a true victim -- not someone who worked at a hospital and was misdiagnosed; someone who had resources and training in the medical field. I would never wish ill upon anyone, but the person who made the "idiot" comment should be wrongfully convicted of a crime, sentenced to death, and then let him/her judge another as he/she tries to crawl out of the hole of a wrongful death sentence. That, my "idiot" friend, I wish upon you.
I understand, but somehow i think he putting on a show. He should be thankful he doesn't have it and move on. He should appreciate life just a little bit more!
OMG this guy is a N____R, went to a Free Clinic in N____RCentral, was seen by a Lazy N____RESS Nurse/Tech, was Muh-D!K1ng a N____RESS with Duh AIDS, ran out on his FAMBLY, moved into Free Housing with Medical Care, started Muh-D!k1ng another N____RESS with Duh AIDS, smoked crack. took other drugs which he most likely traded for crack, got popped by the med staff or the PoPo for drugs & was sent to the Psych Ward because he most likely said he was an addict & needed treatment & not incarceration, this hapened after the Bad Crack he was Muh-D!k1ng left town, got out of the Psych Ward & went right back to crack etc etc etc .

Now he is playing the N___ERLOTTERY . Do you know how I know those he said are at fault at the Clinic were N____RS ? Because he hasn't pulled out his Race Card .

For those ( Haters )that are going to reply to this by calling me names or disputing this, jut remember you wil be only showing your own ignorance . So do us all a favor & just go do what you are good at by sniffing a T_RD & calling it Rose .

Thank You
Now just wait a minute Troy Anthony Davis thats not fair to say all them things and you know what all that N____R stuff you posted means one thing you are an raycisst nothing more nothing less Why dont you have some compassions on the brotha
Who you calling Rayciss N____R ? I don't need the compassion because I got the Street Cred & World Full of LIBERALs on my side . I know how it is .
This guy is a loser and a moron. I was diagnosed last year and the first thing I did was ran out and got another test, then another, then another. After concluding the sad truth, I started medication and went on with my life. No nervous breakdown. No public housing. No special favors. I bought myself a bee car, but thats as close as it comes to a freak out. This mans story is an indication of what is wrong with the HIV-industrial complex. People need help accessing vital and expensive medications, and eventually they need more- but it caters to flakes who could take care of themselves but clearly want to milk the system. Whitman walker focused on a subgroup of parasites instead of providing help to those in need, and it's getting what it deserves.
Although one can empathize with Mr. H's difficulty, it is well known that the HIV testing, and most medical testing in general, has a pretty high false postive rate. Most conditions require retesting for verification and second opinions by other medical folks is always a good idea.

Maybe in a perfect world medical testing would be 100%. It isn't and that's the way it will be until it is perfect just like everything else in the world is perfect. Oh yeah, that's right--nothing's perfect.

So, since medical testing and medical care is what it is it's hard to see why Mr. H. wants payback for what happens way too often.
I, too, have a similar story. I was told by the Army in 1985 that I was positive HTLV3 (old name for AIDS) on the Western Blot and Recombinant DNA, I had donated blood and my blood was tested without my knowledge or permission. I had no risk factors. I asked for a repeat test, but the army docs told me it was not necessary...I was positive., no doubt, no way out. I was told to anul my new marriage and abort my pregnancy. I did those things then proceeded to begin a long spiral into hell. After a year, I was hospitalized in traction after I drove off the highway in a hair-brained attempt to escape my hell. A doctor sent my blood for a re-test after I told my story. It all came back negative. It was devastating. I wasnt sure which test was mistaken. I didn't know what to believe. I killed my baby for nothing? I was a monster. Its been 28 years. I'm not over it. It changed my life, ended many things in me, started many others...not so good. Who pays? Me, my baby, a daughter who would have been 27 this month. Certainly not the military....
Why doesn't he sue his ex for assault with a deadly weapon? If you knowing have hiv/aids and so not tell someone before engaging in intercourse, it is illegal and that's what it's considered.

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