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Second Test Shows No Trace of AIDS in Heart’s Donor

Times Staff Writer

Eleno Ullua Ramirez, a fatally injured Costa Mesa man whose heart was transplanted into a Fountain Valley doctor last week, did not have the AIDS virus, doctors said Wednesday after receiving results of a second round of testing.

Doctors from Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian said the new test was commissioned after Costa Mesa police reported that the 19-year-old heart donor frequented a gay bar and was considered by a former co-worker to be homosexual.

Homosexuals, bisexuals and intravenous drug users are considered those at highest risk of contracting acquired immune deficiency syndrome, according to medical experts.

Before Ullua’s heart was transplanted into Dr. Norton Humphreys, his blood was tested for antibodies to the AIDS virus, as well as for other infectious diseases such as hepatitis, said Dr. Kenneth Littwack, an infectious-disease specialist at Hoag who conducted the tests.

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The more sophisticated AIDS antigen test was run on samples of Ullua’s stored blood because the test for AIDS antibodies is thought to be effective only in determining exposure to AIDS contracted at least six weeks before the test, Littwack said.

The antigen test, by contrast, determined whether Ullua had been exposed to the virus up to two weeks before his April 20 death, Littwack said.

“I’m very happy,” Humphreys, 58, was quoted as telling heart transplant team surgeon Dr. Douglas R. Zusman, who told him the news.

“Now, I can get back to more regular activities,” Zusman quoted Humphreys.

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Identified as Customer

The second round of testing was prompted after Humphreys’ doctors were told by Costa Mesa police Tuesday that Ullua may have been a homosexual.

Dan Hogue, the Costa Mesa police detective who is in charge of the Ullua homicide investigation, said Wednesday that patrons and staff members of a 19th Street bar frequented by gays had identified Ullua as a regular customer after being shown his photograph.

Also, one of Ullua’s former co-workers at Duke’s Hamburgers in Orange, where he once worked as a cook, said the victim had been gay, Hogue said.

Ullua was found unconscious and without identification in front of a Costa Mesa convenience store at 6 a.m. April 19. The night before his death, according to Hogue, Ullua went to Duke’s about 9 p.m. and arranged to return to his old job April 20.

He then went to his father’s apartment in Anaheim, leaving at 10:30 p.m., Hogue said.

Ullua apparently then returned to his apartment in the 1900 block of Pomona Street, because his wallet was found there, and his car was found parked outside, Hogue said.

Police have been unable to account for where Ullua was from then to the next morning, when he was found unconscious from a skull fracture in front of a Circle K store at 19th and Pomona streets.

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In interviews, Hogue said members of Ullua’s family said they knew nothing about his being homosexual.

Hoag doctors and administrators interviewed Wednesday said that if they had known that Ullua may have been homosexual, they would have tested immediately for AIDS antigens.

Larry K. Ainsworth, Hoag’s executive vice president, said: “Some people say that if we had waited to identify Ullua, then we could have talked to his family and gotten a history of possible homosexual activity. But in this case, we wouldn’t have found out because the family didn’t know.”

Littwack, who assisted the transplant team, said cardiac surgeons could not have waited the 24 hours it takes to get the results of an antigen test because of Humphreys’ rapidly worsening condition, as well as the need to act quickly to remove Ullua’s heart to keep it from deteriorating.

It takes just four hours to get the results of the antibody test, he added.

Doctors earlier had said that Humphreys, although in critical condition in the hospital’s cardiac care unit, could have survived another several weeks without a transplant.

Littwack noted that there is only a 1-in-250,000 chance that blood testing negative for antibodies will later test positive for antigens. He also noted that tests for hepatitis and other infectious diseases that are often precursors to AIDS were performed on Ullua. They all turned out negative.

“We would have been very surprised if the antigen test had been positive,” he said.

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Dr. John Ward of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, who is a medical epidemiologist with the AIDS program in charge of transfusions and transplants, said proper procedures in testing for AIDS had been followed in Humphreys’ transplant.


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