Deadly Panacea

Martha Krupp slides a snapshot of her daughter, Leslie Burroughs, across a table in her Tucson home.

"You'd never even think there was a thing wrong with her, would you?" she says, studying the photo of a smiling young woman.

Krupp reaches for another photo, this one of Leslie and her husband, Bill. At 40, Leslie looks fit and happy. "She took great pride in her appearance," her mother says.

Then, pointing to her daughter's face, Krupp adds, "She didn't have these lines before. She just looks very tired to me." She waves her hand dismissively. "I guess it's something only a mother would notice."

On February 12, 1994--not long after that photo was snapped--Krupp's pager beeped. When she called the Flagstaff phone number on the pager, her son-in-law answered.

"I said, 'Hey, what's up?' And he said, 'Well, Leslie's in the hospital--she's in a coma. And I guess there's no way to tell you, but she's HIV-positive.'"

Stunned, she drove to Flagstaff.
Krupp, a woman of uncommon wit and eloquence, tells the story with a degree of detachment, as if the legal battles and wrenching inquiries that followed Leslie's death have somehow inured her. But her composure slips when she describes the scene that awaited her in her daughter's hospital room.

"She was totally brain-dead," Krupp remembers. "She was just lying there with her eyes open, but there was no recognition, nothing. I took one look at her and I knew, I just knew, she was going to die."

That night, Bill Burroughs told Krupp that her daughter had carried HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for 11 years. She had contracted it from sperm used to artificially inseminate her. Although stricken, she had been extremely lucky--taking care of herself, staying fit, somehow delaying the onset of the infections that inevitably kill.

But Leslie's disease was only the first in a series of boggling revelations.
Krupp would soon learn that her daughter's coma was not induced by AIDS, but by a treatment suggested to her by a doctor who had become her last, desperate hope for survival. This treatment had, until then, undergone only the crudest of testing--on a sick dog and two other AIDS patients, all of whom later died.

The purported miracle cure involved injecting into Burroughs' blood stream a substance manufactured out of dirt. The production site? A farmer's barn.

For Leslie Burroughs, the cure was worse than the disease. Authorities would list the cause of death as a massive infection, triggered by swarms of bacteria in the substance the doctor had told her to take.

Her death is vivid testimony to the lengths to which mortally ill people will go in the hope of a miracle cure.

It also raises questions that strike at the core of man's quest to conquer disease. Who has the right to tell a dying woman she can't try an unapproved treatment? After all, crazy notions sometimes become medical breakthroughs--who would have believed 100 years ago that a miraculous antibiotic might sprout from mold?

And what should be done about well-meaning medical professionals whose unorthodox actions might endanger, even kill, such a patient?

Martha Krupp has her own answers.
Though two years have passed since she lost her daughter, she barely conceals her contempt for Dr. David LaVon Payne, the Mesa osteopath in whose hands Leslie placed her life. The state Board of Osteopathic Examiners censured Payne and placed him on five years' probation for his treatment of Leslie Burroughs, but he continues to practice medicine to this day.

Krupp's views are equally unambiguous about David Hudson, an enigmatic farmer-cum-New Age guru who claims to have discovered a DNA-repairing miracle cure in his soil--and who has now embarked on a campaign to mass-produce it.

"He's like some mad scientist," Krupp says, "and the scary thing is, he's still out there."

When he's not on the road, telling rapt audiences about the life-sustaining substance he makes from ordinary dirt, "out there" for David Radius Hudson is the farming village of Laveen, southwest of Phoenix. For three generations, his family has raised cotton and alfalfa in the shadow of the Sierra Estrella.

It was apparent early in his life that Hudson possessed extraordinary intellect. Upon graduation from Laveen Elementary School in 1960, he was chosen valedictorian. He was the salutatorian of the Tolleson High School Class of '64, as well as its president.

Hudson graduated from Arizona State University in 1968 with degrees in agriculture and business, married his high school sweetheart, Kathryn, and returned to Laveen to run the family business. By all accounts, he was as skilled in the cotton field as he was in the classroom--he helped build the farming operation to more than 7,000 cultivated acres.

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Howard Stansfield