Story of Hope: Baby Simon
Jacqueline Dreesen, EGPAF - Côte d’Ivoire
Tina Louise Dassé has been working as a community counselor since 2009 for Femmes Active, a local organization that works with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) at General Hospital of Koumassi in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, under the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s, Project Djidja. Louise has seen patients of all ages, social statuses, and genders—women, children, men, families, young, old—pass through the HIV testing and counseling services she provides.
One morning, Louise received a woman carrying her one-year-old child on her back. The mother courageously presented her child and asked for help.
Louise was close to tears, her heart seized with pity for the little boy who was on the brink of death. The child, named Simon*, had a bloated stomach, sign of severe malnutrition, a baldhead, was vomiting and dehydrated. He weighed just a little less than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and looked more like a six-month-old baby. Given these common symptoms, Louise immediately suspected that the child was HIV positive.
HIV infection in infants and children is usually transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, at delivery or through breastfeeding. In general, physical symptoms of HIV in children include growth failure, various forms of infections that can be more or less severe, wasting, abdominal swelling, skin rashes, etc.
Louise was afraid to lose yet another young patient as she remembered the same scene a few years prior, when another mother came with an infant under the same conditions; the baby passed away shortly after Louise met him.
Louise did not waste any time and did everything in her power to save Simon's life. She urged his mother have herself and her child tested for HIV. The mother tested positive to HIV. Louise offered counseling and referred the baby to the pediatric ward for immediate handling of his symptoms.
Simon's father also came to the HIV testing and counseling office to support his wife. He was very worried about the health of his son. Simon’s father collapsed when the PCR test results were given; Simon was HIV-positive.
Simon's father had only one question in mind: would his son survive? Simon was his first boy. Would he regain his health and be able to play and laugh as any other child? Would he be able to attend school? He was distraught. Louise used her vast experience to comfort the parents and to help them face the situation.
A week later the family returned to the hospital. Simon had not improved, in spite of the antiretroviral drugs prescribed to him. He had a severe cough and was much weaker. The family was sent to the anti-tuberculosis center where another trial awaited them. Simon was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The news was devastating to Simon’s parents.
Tuberculosis is an opportunistic disease most likely to affect HIV patients with a weak immune system and those affected by malnutrition.
Later, Louise contacted the family who had touched her heart as they had stopped coming to the hospital for several weeks now. Louise encouraged them to adhere to treatment for Simon and to not give up. She reassured them, and offered counseling on nutrition for their baby as he was undergoing various treatments.
Louise’s efforts were rewarded when only weeks later the family came to their medical appointment and Simon was showing signs of improvements. Simon’s improvements encouraged his family to continue regular medical appointments.
Three months later, Louise heard laughter and happy voices in the corridors of HIV testing and counseling office.
She saw a chubby little boy laughing, greeting everyone, and running in all directions. Louise laughed, played, and hugged the little boy. When she saw the boy’s mother behind him, she burst into tears. Louise realized that the little bundle of joy at her feet was none other than Simon. He was there in front of her, full of life.
Simon had almost tripled in size – weighing 15 kilograms ( 55 pounds), and played like a child of his age. He was alive.
His father was there as well and was very grateful to Louise. He knew now that his beloved son would live and would have a chance to go to school and live in good health.
Louise did not stop there; she offered again to test Simon’s father through the family approach technique. He finally agreed to an HIV test as he had witnessed improvements in his son’s health. Both parents were infected with HIV.
The family is now regularly attending medical appointments is adhering to treatment and striving.
*Named changed for privacy.