Promise and hope
Life as a teen-ager with HIV
Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2004. See “Like everyone else,” for a 2008 update.
He was angry because—during delivery—he had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus by his birth mother. He was mad because he had to take a handful of pills twice a day.
So he started dropping the pills behind the stove in the Nashville home he shares with his adoptive parents, Rod Bragg and Windle Morgan.
Two weeks later, while cleaning behind the stove, they stumbled on the hidden cache of medication. “There were just tons of pills back there,” Bragg recalls. “The whole routine had gotten the best of him.”
Now 13 and a gregarious six-grader, Reggie isn’t angry anymore. “Being mad doesn’t do anything,” he says.
Reggie knows that without his medicine, he will develop AIDS and die. He wants to live, to play basketball with his friends, to grow up and perhaps become an architect.
“I’m glad they caught me,” he says of his parents’ finding his hidden medicine. “Now I’m having a happy life.”
The number of babies born infected with HIV has fallen sharply in the United States during the past decade, thanks to prompt diagnosis and treatment of HIV-positive pregnant women—before delivery. But about 200 newborns still contract the virus from their mothers each year. There are plenty of young people like Reggie who are growing up with HIV—their viral “loads” controlled by a strict and expensive drug regimen.
They will always have to be careful about their health but—like Reggie—many are facing their futures full of promise and hope.
“He’s a typical teenager with the energy and curiosity and the touch of rebelliousness that all young men and women have at that age,” says his godmother, Rev. Mona Bagasao, chaplain and director of campus ministries at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. “But he’s been brought up to respect himself and other human beings … He’s turned into such a wonderful young man.”
“He’s really touched my life and inspired me,” says Reginald Hill, Reggie’s sixth grade teacher at Jere Baxter Middle School in Nashville. “A lot of times I’ll get frustrated, and I’ll find myself thinking about him, and how I’ve seen him with a lot of his personal struggles. It makes me step back and say, ‘Wait a minute. One day at a time.’
Reggie “has a keen insight into the importance of education, that being the avenue for him to get to where he wants to go in life,” his teacher continues. “With a lot of encouragement, a loving family, loving people around him, I think he believes he can do anything he wants to do. That makes us feel good. We want him to feel that way. The way medicine is changing, he may outlive a whole lot of us.”
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