AFTER THE GROUNDBREAKING ANNOUNCEMENT THAT AN HIV-POSITIVE BABY WAS FUNCTIONALLY CURED OF HIV, NINA MARTINEZ AND CHRISTINA ROCK DECIDED TO WRITE A LETTER TO THE CHILD. AS FORMER HIV BABIES, THEY KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE PEOPLE TALKING “ABOUT” YOU INSTEAD OF “TO” YOU…
Dear former HIV baby,
They will one day tell you the story about how you got this infection called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from your mother, probably before you were born. She could not go to the doctor to learn that she had HIV, and she is not alone. Many mothers cannot get the health care they should during pregnancy. You can help make this better when you get older.
Doctors did not know until you were being born that your mom had the virus. You will not have to learn the significance of how they did not expect to find more than 19,000 viral copies per milliliter of blood only 31 hours after your birth. You do not need to focus on that fact because your health care team gave you powerful HIV treatment as soon as they learned of your infection. As we write this, people all over the world are surprised to learn that you do not have detectable virus in your blood more than two years later and do not require medication for HIV. It is too soon to tell if this will always be the case, but we are hopeful for you.
We are hopeful that you will not have to know what it is like to wake up in the middle of the night to take HIV medications, to get kicked out of school, or have friends who will not talk to you because you have HIV. We are hopeful that you will not have to miss some part of your childhood to endless doctor visits, have more needlesticks than a pincushion, and that you will not get overly sick from common ailments such as a cold or influenza.
But even if they do find that your treatment did not sufficiently make your HIV go away, we want you to know that you will still be okay. Trust us. We were HIV babies once too.
Now we are both adults living with HIV, nearly 30 years after our infection.
As you grow up, despite your HIV status (positive or not), you will have to learn about sexual health. This is important for you and for the coming generations to keep in mind because many things can be transmitted through sexual activity, not just HIV. Babies included. You should learn how to protect yourself (very important) and your partner from any number of sexually transmitted infections with male or female condoms, and you and your future partner should communicate often and get tested together. You can even plan to have children of your own when you want them.
You and your mom were very fortunate to get the care you did. Both of you are proof that something as simple as knowing your HIV status can help improve your quality of life. We are glad that early medication in life could potentially spare you the difficulties we had growing up with HIV. Your story is a first and offers new insight into how we may help other special children like you live without the need for HIV treatment. Not bad for your first couple of years!
We look forward to seeing the person you will become.
Nina Martinez (Atlanta, Georgia, United States)
Christina Rock (Seattle, Washington, United States)