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7-Year-Old AIDS Patient Shares Hug With Princess

February 04, 1989|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The 7-year-old boy in blue pajamas was standing with his nurse in a 17th floor corridor of Harlem Hospital, and when the woman in a red wool suit with black velvet buttons on the sleeves walked by, he looked up at her shining blonde hair.

"Are you very heavy?" she asked, stopping.

Princess Diana bent down, picked up the child, who has AIDS, and hugged him. For two or three minutes, the worlds of poverty and plenty were united as the princess and the patient stood in the hallway, the little boy's head on Diana's shoulder, his arms around her neck. With a sad smile, the princess finally put him down.

Moments earlier, on the final stop of her three-day visit to New York before her return to London, Diana had put a question to Dr. Margaret Heagarty, Harlem Hospital's director of pediatrics:

"When you have the problem of drugs, how on earth are you going to cope with the problem of AIDS?"

"They (drug users) are irresponsible," the physician told the princess. "But we have seen women on drugs with AIDS sit by their dying children and mourn.

"I have come to the conclusion that just because you are a drug user doesn't mean you don't love your children. They love their children as you love your little princes. They are just folks. I have given up judging."

Diana traveled to Harlem on Friday to visit New York's municipal hospital system, under strain because of poverty, homelessness and AIDS, after attending a gala dinner the night before under the glass dome of the Winter Garden, on the Hudson River in New York's World Financial Center.

In Britain, Diana has worked to dispel myths about the spread of the virus, shaking hands with an AIDS patient to show that the disease can't be communicated through casual contact.

"Do you think people are educated enough about this?" Diana asked the physician.

"No, not enough. But visits like yours help. Our own 'royalty,' whatever that is, being a democracy or a republic or whatever, have not done as much as you, anything so symbolic as you," the director of pediatrics replied.

"I believe we share compassion for our children," she told the princess. "AIDS is a virus infection. It is a disease. It is not a crime or a sin."

However, Heagarty also told reporters during Diana's visit that Barbara Bush, "with not any great fanfare" had toured the hospital's pediatric unit before the Republican convention "just to see for herself the problems of the children with AIDS.

"I think that may very well translate into additional resources for children with AIDS," the physician said.

" . . . I think the folks who are required to deal with both the medical care and the social needs of these children are stretched almost beyond endurance and that we need additional resources," Heagarty continued.

Staffers and patients in the hospital's lobby cheered when Diana arrived at mid-morning and went straight to an AIDS briefing conducted by Dr. Heagarty in a second floor conference room.

"Do you think this situation is going to get worse?" Diana asked.

"Yes," Heagarty said.

"In the next five years?"

"Well into the next century," the physician replied.

Diana then went to an upper floor of the hospital. Nurses, lining the corridor, held out their hands to be touched. Some carried children in their arms. In the pediatrics unit, an 11-month old infant with AIDS was being held by his grandmother. The baby boy curled his fingers around Diana's finger, and the child gazed up with big brown eyes at the princess. They remained linked that way for two or three minutes.

Diana stroked a pink frilly dress worn by a 23-month-old girl named Monica, who was held by Galye Alston, a nurse in the unit who is adopting the infant, an AIDS patient.

"I brought her here to see you today," Alston explained.

Diana sat down in a rocking chair next to a young mother holding her baby with AIDS in her arms. She chatted with the mother as they both rocked.

As Diana prepared to depart--with gifts of two small white teddy bears for Prince William, 6, and Prince Harry, 4, and a card signed by local schoolchildren--a worker on the pediatrics floor, Lulu King, rushed up to her and clasped her arms.

"Princess Di, thank you for bringing love and youth and vitality to Harlem," she said.

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