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
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
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
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
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.