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The Plight of a Gay Pediatrician : Carrier of AIDS Virus Hopes to Relocate in California

November 30, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Robert J. Huse, the Texas pediatrician forced to close his thriving practice after public disclosure that he has the AIDS virus, hopes to take a giant step Tuesday toward putting his life back together: He will take the licensing examination here for permission to practice medicine in California.

It has been almost three months since Huse, 45, whose homosexuality had been known only to close friends and associates, became the focus of a national controversy when a newspaper in Mesquite, the Dallas suburb where he had practiced for 12 years, was tipped off that he had tested positive for the antibody in 1985.

Those weeks have been, for Huse, a time for reflection. After years of being "in the closet" as a gay, he said in a telephone interview, it is a "big relief" to no longer have to cover up. And, he said, living with the secret knowledge that he is carrying the HIV virus, which causes the deadly disease, has been "a big burden."

But Huse, who was all but run out of town by irate parents of his young patients--two-thirds of whom deserted him--acknowledges: "At times I'm bitter. At other times I'm not. I've been more grief-stricken than anything."

Stunned by Reaction

He never saw himself as a threat to the health of his patients and he has been stunned by the vitriolic reaction of some parents, two of whom filed malpractice lawsuits against him. "I feel like he betrayed us," said Debbie McWhorter, whose son was a patient of Huse. "I don't know if I will ever trust another doctor."

Another parent told the Mesquite News: "I'd like to crucify him."

"I just think they're ignorant," Huse said of his attackers. "Some of them, I think, are a little malicious too. Some are so vindictive nothing you can tell them is going to allay their anxiety." Huse, who says he was born homosexual, dismisses the maliciousness as a form of bigotry.

Before his private life became public knowledge, Huse estimates he had "around 3,000, maybe 4,000 active patients. During a year's time I'd have 5,000 office visits." This brought him an income he estimates at around $100,000 a year. "I was able to travel when I wanted to, go out to plays, go out to restaurants," he said. And he lived in a nice home that he bought almost five years ago for $110,000.

He has looked into selling his house but learned that "home prices are down about 30% over what they were 1 1/2 years ago. Dallas is really a depressed area economically. I could probably get $85,000. There's no way, really, I can sell."

Right now, he said, "I'm doing OK because I have savings. But I'm depleting my savings."

He wants to practice medicine again, and he wants to practice in California. The lure is more than the climate. Huse has decided to devote his life to working with AIDS patients, adults and children, and California has a large number.

"I like medicine," he said, "I still do. I have a lot of grief over not being in practice. And there are a lot of physicians and other medical personnel who don't want to care for AIDS patients. I feel a lot of compassion for those people. I want to give them hope." Too often, he says, doctors and nurses say: 'Why bother? You're going to be dead in three or four years . . .,' it's a disgrace."

Huse's troubles began, he reflected, when he obtained a restraining order against a former roommate who "kept calling the office and telling them I was gay and I had AIDS." It was at this man's urging that Huse took the AIDS virus test in July of 1985. After their longtime relationship soured, Huse said, he succeeded in getting the man to move out. But what he didn't know, he says, was that his court file was not sealed and that the information in the legal papers was public information, including his disclosure that he has the virus but not AIDS.

Huse does not know who went to the Mesquite News, only that it was "somebody from the county courthouse." But the damage was done.

He was stunned by the way in which parents of patients turned on him after the newspaper published a story detailing his legal action against the one-time roommate, including his demand that the man stop spreading rumors that he had contracted AIDS. The story ran Sept. 11 with a headline across the top of the front page.

Huse responded with an open letter to the newspaper in which he emphasized that he was "not a danger to the public and that I would hope they would continue to see me."

But, by and large, patients did not. Immediately, his office phone all but stopped ringing. Very quickly, he said, he learned that "there's a lot of ignorance" about AIDS and how it is transmitted. Some encouraged him to hang in there but, he said, "not enough patients stayed with me."

On Sept. 30, Huse closed up shop. After 15 years, 12 in Mesquite and, before that, three in Dodge City, Kan., as a practicing pediatrician, he was out of a job.

Huse said he would have sold his practice but "there's no practice left to sell."

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