Theranos patient testifies that blood test showed HIV false positive

A former Theranos patient testified Wednesday that her blood falsely tested positive for HIV antibodies when she received a screening more than five years ago.

Erin Tompkins relayed the emotional ordeal from the witness stand in the closely watched federal fraud trial against the failed bio-tech company’s founder Elizabeth Holmes. 

"I was quite emotional at the time," Tomkins testified, describing trying in vain to get answers from a customer services representative at Theranos. 

Three weeks later, she got a test at an Arizona women’s clinic that came back negative. Two subsequent tests from other companies also showed she did not have HIV.

Tompkins’ testified at the close of a long day of testimony in the protracted legal saga against Holmes and co-defendant Sunny Balwani. Balwani, Holmes’ former business partner and boyfriend, is being tried separately in a case that’s tentatively scheduled to start early next year. 

They each face ten counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy for allegedly defrauding patients and investors in the company. 

Tompkins said she chose to get her blood tested at a Walgreens store in Phoenix, Ariz. in May 2015 after seeing a profile of the company in a magazine and later hearing about its services from a friend on Facebook.

She said she didn’t have health insurance, and was intrigued by the low cost of the test. She also liked the promise the test would only use a small sample of blood from a finger stick rather than a traditional venous draw done by other companies. 

Tompkins is set to resume her testimony when court resumes on Thursday. The prosecution has signaled that it plans to call journalist Roger Parloff the same day. He wrote a glowing profile of Theranos and Holmes for Fortune magazine. He later corrected large portions of the piece after it was exposed that the company’s technology didn’t work as Holmes claimed.  

Earlier Wednesday, San Francisco hedge fund manager Brian Grossman finished testifying under cross examination. He invested $96 million in Theranos. He said Holmes falsely told him the company was supported by major pharmaceutical companies and was being used by the military. 

What’s more, Grossman testified that Homes claimed Theranos’ blood analyzers could do more than 1,000 blood tests. He said Holmes said they were cheaper, faster and more accurate than traditional methods. None of those claims turned out to be accurate. 

Under cross examination, Grossman was confronted by several emails he exchanged with colleagues showing skepticism about the company’s claims. 

One of the themes of the defense has been to case some blame on the investors for not doing enough due diligence. 

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky