Marian sits quietly in the chair in our clinic room, her arms wrapped around her sleeping one-year-old daughter. One-year-old Ellen breathes heavily, but only with the deep in-and-out of sleep. Her lungs sound clear and healthy when I listen with my stethoscope.
Six months ago, baby Ellen had a pneumonia that landed her in the hospital. She struggled to breathe, and the infection in her lungs almost ended her short life. Under my stethoscope, her breathing was coarse and crackly, her lungs filled with fluid and infection.
Marian had given birth to Ellen at home, and she had never been to a hospital before in her life. But worry over her coughing, gasping baby pushed Marian to bring her to the hospital facility where she thought her sick baby could get the treatment she needed. Bringing Ellen to the hospital saved the baby’s life; she needed medicines that could only be given there. And it turned out she needed the hospital for other reasons as well.
While Ellen was in the hospital, the doctors tested her for HIV. Positive. When a baby tests positive for the HIV virus, it almost always means that the baby’s mother is infected too.
On that day six months ago, Marian held her sick baby in her arms as she sat in a single bed on the hospital wards and she heard that both she and baby Ellen were HIV positive. Marian carried in her blood the virus that would end both of their lives. At least, that’s what she thought.
“I thought that HIV means death,” Marian said. “I knew we both would die.”
Thankfully, Marian was wrong. Her efforts to get Ellen to the hospital meant that the baby could have the antibiotics and oxygen she needed to treat her pneumonia. And although many HIV-infected babies do die when they are not tested and when they do not get treatment, we knew now that Ellen needed this treatment. We could offer baby Ellen treatment – and Marian too. Mother and her baby were quickly enrolled in one of our AMPATH clinics, and both were started on medicines to treat their HIV.
Ellen recovered well from her pneumonia. She has been growing quickly and the medicines have helped her to progress through all of the baby milestones we would hope for – sitting, crawling, standing, starting to walk. No more rashes, no more pneumonias, no more skinny and not-growing baby.
“Look at her,” says Marian proudly. “You would never know.”
Marian is feeling better too. Her childbirth had left her with anemia, and she had lost far too much weight. With the medicines, she says her strength and weight have returned.
“I am thankful,” Marian says. “I am thankful we have known the sickness is there and come to treatment. Otherwise, we would have been lost.”
I am thankful too.
During this week where we practice gratitude and celebrate thankfulness, I am going to remember, one-by-one, some stories of thankfulness. Stories of thankfulness in the face of the upcoming World AIDS Day, in the face of the epidemic of this virus.
Marian was thankful that the virus in her blood and in her daughter’s was discovered. Thankful that she could be linked into HIV care. Thankful that they could be started on the medicines that transform HIV from something that means certain death into an illness with which one can still live. Thankful that she can hold in her arms a healthy, growing, sleeping baby.
I am thankful too.