Like everyone else

Editor’s Note:  This is the second of two parts. See also Promise and hope.

Alec Petersen
Published: June, 2008

Reggie Morgan Bragg plays with his cat, Feather, in 2008.
Photo by Anne Rayner
Reggie Bragg is a 17-year-old high school student who likes to work on cars and go skateboarding in the afternoons. Most days he would rather play Tony Hawk games on his X-box than do his homework, but school is “alright” for Reggie, and he has some serious plans for his future.

The thing is that Reggie has grown up with what he calls a “problem.” He has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Reggie was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus during delivery by his birth mother. As a child, he was a familiar face at Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases Clinic. He had to visit the clinic every one to three months for years, and he remembers being angry with all the doctors and the handfuls of pills he was forced to take twice a day.

But today Reggie is living a happy teenage life with his adoptive parents Rod Bragg and Windle Morgan in East Nashville.

Thanks to improving drug therapies, he is a part of the newly maturing population of teenagers who have lived with HIV their entire lives. Twenty years ago, infants with HIV rarely lived to see the sixth grade, but now teenagers like Reggie look forward to bright futures. They view HIV as a part of life, rather than as a stigmatized disease.

Reggie explains: “You’re just like everyone else. Everyone has situations that they deal with. Mine is HIV.” He no longer worries about his next doctor’s appointment; he’s thinking about text messaging and playing his electric guitar.

Reggie’s parents never wanted him to dwell on his disease; they refused to let HIV define him. “We always told him that he was a healthy child,” Rod explains. Reggie’s parents sent him to public school just like all the other kids, and encouraged him to make nice friends and get good grades.

At Maplewood High School, only a few of Reggie’s closest friends know that he has HIV. Most of his classmates see him as a normal junior who has to work a part-time job to pay for the insurance on his truck. “Nobody really knows that I’m living with HIV,” he says, because to Reggie the infection has become almost incidental.

These days Reggie sees his doctor only once every six months. He and his parents are grateful for the care he has received over the years from his team at Vanderbilt, including Greg Wilson, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, Peggy Bender, MSN, RN, FNP, and Kathryn Garguilo, RN, MSN.

More adult challenges have been tougher for Reggie. Two years ago, when he had started to get serious about a girl, he and Windle had to sit across from the girlfriend and her mother to explain his illness. “It was scary,” Reggie recalls.

The young lady took it pretty well, but her mother was concerned and Reggie lost his girlfriend.

Reggie struggles with the idea of having a family someday and what his future will be like, but he is not letting the uncertainty slow him down. After graduating from high school he wants to attend Nashville State College to study auto mechanics, and hopefully open his own shop someday.

He sums up his life so far: “Now that I’ve gotten older and I’ve gotten a lot healthier, I guess that I’m just motivated.”

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