Deadly Panacea

What led an AIDS patient to inject a substance manufactured from common dirt into her blood stream?

Bill Burroughs did as he had been instructed. He plunged a needle through the red rubber stopper, withdrew two ccs of the liquid and injected it into the line installed in his wife's arm.

Leslie was overcome by chills and nausea, and her temperature rocketed to 105 degrees. Concerned, the couple called Payne, who told them that Leslie's reaction was normal. Still, as a precaution, he told them to wait a few days, then cut the dosage in half and try it again. Leslie's symptoms subsided, and after several days, she gave the medication another try.

As before, she developed chills and nausea. But this time, things got much worse. Her skin turned clammy, and Bill could do nothing to keep her warm. After three hours, she stopped breathing. Bill called 911, and notified Payne. The paramedics who responded managed to resuscitate Leslie and rushed her to the hospital. Payne sped to Flagstaff from his cabin in Strawberry.

But the damage had been done. Two days later, when Leslie was flown to Tucson's University Medical Center for further treatment, her brain, deprived of oxygen for too long, had begun a slow march toward death. One by one, as vital functions ceased, Leslie's body was wracked by a series of seizures. She never regained consciousness, and died on March 24, 1994, six weeks after receiving the second injection.

The primary cause of death was a type of general blood infection known as sepsis which, autopsy reports state, can be triggered by the kinds of bacteria found in the vial. Apparently, the substance Hudson gave to Payne was about as sanitary as the pond water the lab technician said it resembled.

Even before Leslie Burroughs died, people were wondering exactly what kind of medicine Payne was practicing. The first was Dr. Kellen J. Ronnau, who treated the comatose Leslie Burroughs at a Flagstaff emergency room.

Next came Leslie Boyer, a toxicologist with the poison control center at the University of Arizona who tried to determine whether Payne's treatment was responsible for Burroughs' grave situation.

Both Boyer and Ronnau took a step that is rare in the collegiate medical world: They filed letters of complaint with the state Board of Osteopathic Examiners, which is responsible for overseeing Payne's actions.

"I guess the bottom line is that the level of care was so horrendous that I'm not willing to drop the issue," Ronnau wrote.

After a series of well-publicized hearings, the board voted 6-1 to censure Payne and place him on probation. The board based its decision on recommendations from an administrative law judge who, after sifting through mounds of testimony and evidence, pronounced that Payne's actions were "more isolated than general," and that Payne's role in treating AIDS patients made his practice worth sparing.

While there can be no doubt that Payne is a compassionate caregiver whose practice caters to the special needs of AIDS patients, it is equally clear that, in Burroughs' case, Payne turned his back on the scientific method.

Equally troubling are contradictions in Payne's testimony that led the board to refer his case to prosecutors for a review of criminal charges. The referral stems not from his administration of the panacea, but from allegations that Payne removed one of the vials from Burroughs' hospital room. Payne denies taking the vial, saying it would make no sense given that the hospital's lab already had one vial for analysis. A spokesman for the Coconino County Attorney's Office says the referral has not made its way to his office.

Anne Marie Berger, executive director of the Board of Osteopathic Examiners, says Payne's case was never referred to prosecutors for consideration as negligent homicide because the board only votes on recommendations provided by the administrative law judge.

"That [recommendation] never came before the board," Berger says, adding that the Burroughs family has the option of filing a criminal complaint against Payne.

Martha Krupp says it never occurred to her to file such a complaint until a prosecutor who represented the state before the osteopath's board approached her about it last year.

"He said, 'You know, it's always puzzled me why you never filed a criminal complaint against this guy,'" Krupp says. She posed the question to Robert Hoyt, who was representing the family in the civil case against Hudson.

"He said, 'Really, we're waiting to see what the board does. If they slap his hands, you're going to have a hard time getting a conviction,'" Krupp says.

A "slap on the hand" seems to be exactly how Payne has come to view his punishment. "Basically, they just said, 'You were a naughty boy and don't let it happen again,'" Payne says.

Through it all, Payne has maintained that his treatment of Leslie Burroughs was appropriate. What's more, he believes that Hudson's potion showed enough promise to warrant further testing.

"What they've done is turn this into a contamination issue," he says, "and what's been lost in all of this is that the Hudson material--the monoatomic iridium and rhodium--had nothing to do with her death."

When asked about the fact that Fernando--the UofA chemist--was unable to find any trace of iridium or rhodium in a sample taken from the one vial seized as evidence in the case, Payne echoes Hudson's assertion that the chemist simply didn't know how to find it in its unique state.

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