It is December 1, World AIDS Day, and I am so excited for Celebration in Red. It feels like a big birthday party for me and all of the HIV-infected children I care for in Kenya. In Kenya, our kids are engaged in a World AIDS Day Youth Soccer Tournament as I type this. And in Indianapolis, we are welcoming everyone to the Biltwell Event Center to celebrate.
In the midst of these events, on every December 1, I remember a little girl named Faith. I met Faith the very first time I went to Kenya, in 2004.
Today, December 1, was Faith’s birthday. I wish that Faith was alive today to turn 15. Faith’s birthday should be celebrated. There is a gap in my heart every World AIDS Day when I think of Faith.
Faith was the first child under my care who died from HIV. I took this photo of Faith and her mother on the day that I met them in Kenya on the wards of the hospital.
Faith was 4-years old, and she only weighed 4 kilograms – about 9 pounds. I had never seen a 4-year-old child like Faith before that day, a 4-year-old who weighed less than some newborn babies.
Four-year-olds are not supposed to look like Faith looked. The HIV virus had stolen all of Faith’s energy as it destroyed her body’s immune system. The HIV virus was stealing away Faith. She was beautiful, but broken.
Faith’s mother had worked very, very hard to get her daughter to the referral hospital. You can see in the photo how happy and hopeful her mother looks. She is pleased she managed to get her daughter to this hospital. She thinks I will be able to save her daughter.
Faith died two days after she was admitted to the hospital. Our medicines, our fluids, our nutritional support were all too little, too late. We could not save her. I could not save her. I remember her last breath. Faith taught me my first real lesson in how HIV steals children’s lives.
After Faith died, her mother kept thanking me for this photo that I had taken of Faith. She did not have any other pictures of her daughter, and she was grateful to have this one.
I felt terrible when she thanked me. I felt like I failed because I could not keep Faith alive. What was a photo in the face of the loss of a 4-year-old daughter?
I wished that I could change Faith’s story. I still wish that. I wish Faith was alive to turn 15 on this December 1, on this World AIDS Day. I wish we all could know Faith today. I wish we were celebrating Faith’s 15th birthday today in a different way.
We have lost so many Faiths. 210,000 children died from HIV last year. 210,000 stories we will never know. 210,000 birthdays that will not be celebrated this year.
When I took care of Faith, I did not realize that my life’s work would become trying to change the stories of children living with HIV in the world’s poor places. I did not know I would one day be caring for over 15,000 Kenyan children just like Faith through the AMPATH program. I did not know that I would find spend every day trying change the stories of children with HIV around the world into stories of health and hope.
3.4 million of the world’s children are living with HIV on this December 1, 2015. I love it that we will gather in Indianapolis for World AIDS Day to try to change the story for children like Faith. Please join us.
Please join in the push for more birthdays for more children with HIV.