Each time 7-year-old Javontae Kick-lighter sniffles or has a fever, his mother fears he might have AIDS. For two years, Rosita Ardis has lived with the worry that Javontae contracted AIDS while in All Children's Hospital.
Now she is suing the hospital on her son's behalf, claiming he may have been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS through an intravenous tube labeled with the name of an AIDS patient.
Javontae's blood repeatedly has tested negative for the human immunodeficiency virus, and the bright-eyed second-grader is the picture of health. But his mother worries that the disease could be lying dormant.
"Every time he gets sick, you worry," she said. "He gets along fine. He looks fine, but you never know."
Two years ago this week Javontae was hospitalized at All Children's Hospital for meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes around the brain.
During his stay, his mother and grandmother were introduced to the hospital's quality-assurance nurse, an infection-control physician and the person in charge of risk management for the hospital.
Then they were told there was a possibility Javontae had been exposed to the AIDS virus when another patient's intravenous tube was connected to him.
Beyond that, Ms. Ardis said, she was told little about how the mistake could have been made. All Children's Hospital spokeswoman Catherine Coleman would not comment on the case to the Times.
Dr. Carol Greene, who was a resident at the hospital and treated Javontae two years ago, said Thursday that it is not clear whether the intravenous tubing attached to Javontae had actually been used on an AIDS patient.
"It was labeled with another patient's name," she said. "We don't know if it was used on that other patient."
Intravenous tubes are used to deliver liquids into the veins of patients, and Greene said blood usually does not back up into them. Exposure to tainted blood is a leading method of transmitting AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Another thing Green said makes it unlikely that the tubing was contaminated, even if it had been used on an AIDS patient, is that it was not the type that attaches directly to an intravenous needle. Instead, it was secondary tubing that connects to the primary intravenous tube so additional medication can be given to the patient.
That means if the tubing had been connected to the AIDS patient, it would have been farther away from the needle than the primary tubing.
"There are a lot of ifs," Greene said.
Despite the remote possibility of infection, Greene said, she understand's the family's concern. "I don't blame them for being nervous."
"I stayed calm, but I was devastated," said Javontae's grandmother, Charlene Cannedy, who lives with her daughter and grandchildren. Ms. Cannedy is a nurse who has treated AIDS patients.
Ms. Ardis, who is a divorced, single mother, said she was angry and upset.
"We had already been through enough" because of Javontae's meningitis, she said. "You think your kid is getting better and then they lay it on you that there is a possibility that he could contract the HIV virus."
Hospital officials told the family that the chances of the child contracting AIDS from the tubing were remote, Ms. Cannedy said.
"They offered to have him tested every six months without us paying for it," she said. "They offered apologies. They were so sorry that it had happened."
But that was all they were offered, Ms. Cannedy said.
The possibilities of what could happen to her son sank in six months later, Ms. Ardis said, when she first took him to the hospital for blood tests.
When she told nurses why she had brought her son in, "there was a coldness," she said. "Every time he went it was like they stereotyped him."
The hospital has told Ms. Ardis that her son should be safe since he has tested negative for two years.
"When they told me that, it was like they were dismissing it," Ms. Ardis said.
According to standards set by the national Centers for Disease Control, it takes from six to 12 weeks after exposure for AIDS tests to be positive, said spokesman Chuck Fallis. The virus should have shown up in the blood by now if Javontae had been exposed, he said.
But he also said a patient can remain symptomless for a much longer period of time. Fallis said it takes 10 years, on average, for symptoms to appear.
William F. Blews, Javontae's attorney, said Thursday that the lawsuit was filed to protect Javontae if the disease should show up in the future. It also asks for damages for Ms. Ardis because of the anxiety she has suffered.
"But our main purpose is to look out for Javontae's rights," he said.