The AIDS epidemic reached into the ranks of Congress Thursday, claiming the life of Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, 56, a Connecticut Republican whose doctor said that he apparently contracted the disease from the many blood transfusions he received during heart surgery some years ago.
Dr. Cesar Caceres said in a statement issued by the congressman's office that McKinney--the father of five and in his 37th year of marriage--had "died of pneumocystis pneumonia, a bacterial infection brought on by acquired immune deficiency syndrome."
He said he believed that McKinney was infected while undergoing multiple bypass heart surgery in 1979.
Receives Unscreened Blood
"This was during the window period between 1978 and the spring of 1985 when no testing of blood bank donors for HTLV-III (virus) was done," Caceres said. "In recently reviewing his medical charts, I found that when he first came to see me in 1980 and 1981, there was evidence of increased globulin (blood levels important in antibody production). We now know that this can be evidence of AIDS-related activity."
Caceres said that McKinney had tested positive for HTLV-III, the virus that produces AIDS, 18 months ago. However, he was not diagnosed as having developed the disease until after he entered Washington Hospital Center on April 22.
McKinney told Caceres that he "wanted the cause of his death known after he passed away, in hopes that this information might help others to deal with what is becoming a national crisis," according to the doctor.
20,352 Deaths in U.S.
As of Monday, 20,352 Americans had died of AIDS, including actor Rock Hudson and former Washington Redskins football player Jerry Smith. An additional 14,867 others had contracted the disease, according to government statistics.
In this country, AIDS primarily has afflicted homosexual and bisexual men, intravenous drug users and their sexual partners. A blood-screening procedure initiated in 1985 to protect the nation's blood supply has now made the risk of infection through blood transfusions slight.
Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) announced McKinney's death to a somber House chamber, noting his active work to aid the homeless even as he was dying.
"He cared for others more often than he cared for himself," Gejdenson said.
Known for Unpopular Stands
McKinney, of Fairfield, who was serving his 16th year in the House, was regarded as a liberal on social and civil rights issues who prided himself on taking unpopular stands.
An aide recalled that, as a freshman congressman during Richard M. Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign, McKinney "shocked advisers when they learned via the radio that he was proposing amnesty for draft dodgers."
In recent years, he was one of the few Republicans who frequently voted with Democrats on social issues and spoke out for women's rights and sanctions against South Africa.
Expert on Housing Law
As senior Republican on the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee's housing and community development subcommittee, McKinney was recognized as an expert on federal housing law and a spokesman for urban interests.