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Breaking a Silence : 'Starsky' Star, Wife Share Their Family's Painful Battle Against AIDS

August 25, 1989|JANET HUCK | Times Staff Writer

They were a couple to be envied. Elizabeth Glaser was the exhibit director of the Los Angeles Children's Museum. Paul Michael Glaser was an international star from TV's "Starsky and Hutch" who had found a second career as a movie director. In 1981, they were expecting their first child.

Then their world started crumbling.

Elizabeth Glaser was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, hemorrhaging heavily in her ninth month. Doctors safely delivered her daughter. But Elizabeth's bleeding wouldn't stop. And, for the next four hours, she was transfused with seven pints of blood.

It wasn't until three weeks later that Elizabeth Glaser read a newspaper article describing the risk at that time of developing acquired immune deficiency syndrome from tranfusions. Panicked, she called her physician.

He was calm and reassuring. "Elizabeth," he said, "your nightmare is over."

Tested for Virus

But her family's nightmare had just begun. Four years later, daughter Ariel became stubbornly sick with something the doctors couldn't pin down. When doctors finally tested Ariel for human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, the Glasers were told the test was just a precaution. But Ariel tested positive. As each family member subsequently was tested, the Glasers would confront more horrors--and a horrible truth. Elizabeth, who also tested HIV positive, had passed the virus to Ariel and their 1 1/2-year-old son. Only Paul was not infected.

Ariel, the daughter whom Elizabeth had lovingly and innocently breast fed for eight months, died three years later, right after her seventh birthday. So far, Elizabeth, who has been taking the drug AZT for a year and a half, and their son, now a healthy, wiggly 5-year-old, have not developed AIDS, but the family lives daily with the specter of the disease.

Tragically, the Glasers' story is not all that uncommon anymore. Across the country, there are hundreds of AIDS families, people whose lives have been invaded by a deadly enemy not through drug abuse or homosexual contact, but through a simple blood transfusion. Although Elizabeth has worked diligently and effectively behind the scenes for AIDS education and research, the family would not be going public now, but for the circumstance of their celebrity.

For four years, the Glasers have tried to create a safe, normal life for their children away from the public eye. But now, on the first anniversary of their daughter's death, that cocoon has been threatened. Tabloid reporters dug up the story of Paul Michael Glaser's AIDS family and, the Glasers have been told, a story is scheduled to appear in the National Enquirer. The Enquirer refuses to comment.

"We appealed to the Enquirer," says Paul. "We begged them not to run the story, but they said it was newsworthy."

"For Paul and me," says Elizabeth, "this is very frightening to imagine that people we don't know will find out the most private parts of our lives. But our fear is the greatest for our son. He does not know that he isn't a normal, healthy little boy, and he doesn't know that his mother isn't a normal, healthy mom. It's our right to tell him when he is strong enough and old enough to handle the information. Now we may not have that choice."

So the Glasers decided to come forward, to tell their painful but courageous story to View.

Ariel was any father's fantasy of a daughter, an extremely bright, artistically gifted child with a lively imagination; her brother, who's the image of Huckleberry Finn, was a rambunctious toddler. Together, they turned their parents' stately, Westside Mediterranean home into one big playground. The atrium was littered with bicycles and basketball hoops. The living room had a rocking horse. Happy face stickers were pasted on the arm of an antique mission chair. Often, Elizabeth, the former museum director who quit her job to be with the children, would entertain the entire preschool on rainy days.

But four years ago, while the family was in Miami where Paul was working, Ariel suddenly became so sick they rushed her to a hospital. Though Ariel's red blood cell count was dangerously low, doctors assured them she would recover. Eight months later, she still wasn't well. An immunologist suggested they test for HIV. "Don't worry," their doctor said. "We just have to rule out all possibilities."

Then they got the phone call that would change their lives.

"That day in May we found out a reality that an entire family was going to be lost," she says, reflecting the pessimism of the time. "We had been dealt the worst hand of cards any family could have gotten. I thought about throwing my hands up and giving up. But we decided to play that hand offensively."

Adds Paul, "We have grown up a hell of a lot. It was either grow up or perish."

"Lesser men would have walked," says Elizabeth, looking at her husband with admiration. "He didn't flinch. He never made us feel we were anything but a family."

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