Just*in Time: June 2016

Dear Justin—

I am in the medical field and I just wanted to say thank you for all the work you do. Even though I work in healthcare I don’t have much knowledge about HIV. I have a friend that is a special friend. I met her at my office; we’ll call her Angela. Angela is eight years-old and her adopted mother admitted to me that she had [been diagnosed with] AIDS. I couldn’t believe it when I heard, but the thing I also couldn’t believe is her strength. Angela looked at her mom and said, “Oh Mom do you gotta tell everyone,” before letting out a long sigh. It seemed Angela wasn’t afraid of answering question about herself either. Angela blurted out, “Yes I was born with it.” I was so amazed by her but there was a sadness about it all. I wondered and asked myself if she was ever going to have a life? What kind of life would she have? But I couldn’t figure out the answer myself so I’m asking you. Thank you for any help you can give.
—Sal Tofer

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved.

Good day to you and thank you for writing in. I understand what might be going through your head. There are a lot of questions that many people would have to know to see if the child’s body is handling the infection.

I’m not sure if you know the difference between HIV and AIDS, but there is a difference, at least in science and medicine’s eyes. T cells are helper cells that help the body fight off illness and infection. When you’re infected with HIV and your T-cell count goes below 200, the doctor might give you an AIDS diagnosis. The one thing that I like to mention to people is positivity goes a long way. Angela obviously may understand her diagnosis and is comfortable with it. She might be more susceptible to infection because of her AIDS diagnosis, but she has her adopted mother who is giving her access to proper care. Also another factor that must be taken into account is if her viral load is detectable. The viral load is how much HIV is in the blood. If she has an undetectable viral load, it means that there are so few copies of HIV in the blood that monitoring tests are not able to detect the HIV.

From the information you gave me in my opinion she will be okay. Even though she is very young and has an AIDS diagnosis it doesn’t mean she is not having any kind of life. From what you’ve told me it seems like she is the typical eight-year-old girl. Seeing as how science and medicine and making advances in the HIV sector I am very optimistic that there will be a cure, maybe not today or tomorrow but someday, and I want to be here to see it. They’re are also coming out with better medications that do not have so many side effects and negative long-term effects on the body. I personally know of a man who is ninety years of age who just passed away from being on dialysis but did not die from HIV. He is considered a long-term survivor considering he was diagnosed over thirty years ago. I read a study that explained that a person who is twenty-five and diagnosed with HIV can live a long healthy life if they are taking care of themselves, as in a good diet, exercise, on medication, etc. When I say a long healthy life I mean a life with a life expectancy that someone without HIV can have. I would not worry about Angela; it seems that she is being taken care of and before you know it you might be getting an invite or notification to her high school graduation.

Thank you.


Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].