A Mother's Story
September 9, 2010
Hi, my name is Suzan. I am a mom who is passionate about life and family. Twenty-three years ago I married Clay, the man of my dreams, and together we are raising three amazing children, two biological and a son we adopted from Ethiopia. Our daughter, Alee, is a sophomore in college this year; our 14-year-old, Mitchell, is an honors student into music and a member of his school’s marching band; and then there is our youngest, Yonas, our spirited little guy who has added a lot of laughter and happiness to the mix. Life is good. Really good. But it wasn’t always that way for our family.
Suzan Meredith and her husband, Clay, and children
Alee, Yonas, and Mitchell.
In 1996, my children were dying of AIDS. Diagnosed just eight months after the birth of my second child, almost overnight my children and I became just another face of AIDS. I unknowingly contracted the virus from my high school sweetheart (who I had believed died of cancer) and carried the HIV virus for nearly 10 years without ever knowing it. We were very lucky - my husband never did contract HIV, but unfortunately both of our children did. I nearly lost Alee and Mitchell that year, but 1996 – the year we were diagnosed – was also the same year that protease inhibitors became available, which is a type of antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV. My husband and I would crush the blue pills into pudding, clap and cheer, and somehow our children would manage to swallow the brown, sticky mess. Daily, we saw improvements. This new medicine, in combination with two others, brought our children back to us. It was and still is the most miraculous thing that I have ever witnessed.
So yes, we are very fortunate, but that is not often the case in other parts of the world like Africa, where Yonas was born. There mothers often feel helpless to stop the spread of the virus to their own children. Being a mother with three children who are all positive, yet remarkably healthy, I can only imagine what that feels like.
The hardest part of living with HIV was never that I might die, but rather that I gave this terrible disease to my children. No mother should have to carry that burden. Not today, not ever. Especially when mother-to-child transmission of HIV is completely preventable. Inexpensive and effective medicines can reduce the chances of a mother passing the virus on to her children to less than two percent. Those are some pretty terrific odds.
Mother-to-child transmission has been virtually eliminated in the United States. That can’t be said for other places in the world, where so many are still dying from a disease that is now considered manageable, if not yet curable. We can stop mothers and their children from dying. I know because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
It’s been 14 years since my children’s health was restored. I will get to see my children grow up. It’s a gift, and what greater gift is there? You should know that the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is making big strides around the world to help families stay healthy. And it’s because of people like you, who care, that life-saving medicines are being made available to those who need it most. I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story and hear my heartfelt message of gratitude. This is important, and together I know we can make a difference.
Suzan Meredith is an author and family ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She writes from Kentucky where she lives with her husband and three kids. Her upcoming novel, The Silence of Mercy Bleu, was a finalist in The William Faulkner-Wisdom "Novel-In-Progress" Competition. Read more about how Elizabeth Glaser's story inspired Suzan here and learn more about her and her family, at www.suzanmeredith.com.