Memorial Held Today for Belynda Dunn
Mourners will gather today at Boston's Union United Methodist Church in the city's South End to pay their final respects to Belynda Dunn, the HIV-positive AIDS activist who died last week following two unsuccessful liver transplant attempts, the Boston Herald reports (Gelzinis, Boston Herald, 3/17). Dunn, who also had hepatitis C, underwent the first liver transplant on March 5, but that liver did not function properly, causing doctors to attempt a second transplant on March 8. That liver also failed to function, leading to multi-system organ failure. Dunn did not regain consciousness after either operation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13). According to the Herald, Dunn "reclaimed her own life from the depths of drug and alcohol abuse" and through her work with the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts "blazed a singular trail between Boston's black community and the city's burgeoning [HIV-positive] population" (Boston Herald, 3/17). She also gained fame by taking on Neighborhood Health Plan, the HMO that denied her coverage for a transplant. NHP said that it would not cover the surgery because liver transplants for people with HIV are considered "experimental" and such surgeries were not covered under the HMO contract Dunn had signed. The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders filed suit against the health plan on Dunn's behalf, but the Massachusetts Office of Patient Protection upheld NHP's decision to reject coverage for Dunn's transplant. Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino created a fund to raise money to pay for Dunn's operation. However, after a state Medicaid appeals board approved coverage of a liver transplant for a different HIV-positive patient, NHP reversed its decision, donating $100,000 to Menino's fund and saying it would cover any costs above the $240,000 raised by the fund (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/13). Dunn's daughter Hope Brown said her mother's death was "not in vain" because of the fight. "She died for a purpose. Because of all that she had to go through to receive a (liver) transplant, other people with HIV or hepatitis C won't have to deal with the same kind of prejudice ... the same injustice," she explained. She also expressed her gratitude to AIDS Action Committee founder Larry Kessler for his support of her mother. "[H]e was like a father and brother to my mom. Their friendship broke down all kinds of barriers," she added (Boston Herald, 3/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.