Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

December 17, 2013

A doctor's legacy

Once-condemned doctor turns to helping Haitians

(Continued)

Gervais, a native of Haiti, remembers feeling the stigma about Haitians and AIDS as she pursued her medical degree. For a time, even after a ban on Haitians donating blood in the U.S. was lifted, she stopped giving blood just to avoid being questioned about her heritage.

Gervais sees Fournier as a pioneer of the movement to improve health care for Haitians, not as the cause of the stigma.

"Looking back, obviously he wrote some article, but the scientific community had no clue. They're seeing all these cases, and this is how the scientific mind works: You're trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. When you're right, it's wonderful, but sometimes you have trial and error before you get it right," she says.

From Fournier, now 65, there was never an "I'm sorry" for what happened in the aftermath of those early AIDS studies. Shortly before the research in Miami was published, officials at the Centers for Disease Control began warning doctors who cared for Haitians that their patients might be prone to terrifying infections.

In the panic that followed, Haitians in the U.S. reported losing jobs, and their children were taunted at school. The U.S. government would briefly ban Haitians from donating blood. Anger in the Haitian-American community manifested in massive rallies that blocked the Brooklyn Bridge and Miami streets.

Fournier, who endured pressure to cut back on his AIDS work, says he never felt like he had to apologize for contributing to the stereotype that shadowed Haitians for years. Rather, he says: "I did it with my words and actions."

Growing up north of Boston, Fournier was the oldest of six children whose assembly-line worker father died at age 40. In medical school, he was keenly aware that he hadn't shared many of the privileges enjoyed by most of his classmates — they were the sons of lawyers and doctors, while he was selling his own blood to help pay for the engagement ring he gave to the woman he courted with dates in the medical school cafeteria.

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