Although Ben has been living with HIV since early childhood, he was determined not to let the virus take away his dreams of having a family. And his dream was realized in April 2013, when Ben and his wife Kasiah welcomed their beautiful daughter, Finley Elizabeth Banks, into the world. Finley was born healthy and HIV-free. But the journey to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child began many years before Ben became a father.
When Ben was two years old, he was diagnosed with Bilateral Wilms’ tumors, a cancer of the kidneys, which had also spread to both lungs. The prognosis was grim; treatment was aggressive. Ben underwent 15 months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgeries that required multiple blood transfusions.
During one of his surgeries he was unknowingly transfused with blood that infected him with HIV. Ten years later, having survived to have a cancer-free childhood, doctors screened Ben’s blood during a routine oncology check-up and discovered that he was HIV-positive.
That was back 1991, when the HIV/AIDS the epidemic was still raging in the United States, and very little was known about how HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. Pediatric treatment options were limited — AZT had only been approved for young patients the previous year.
But support from family and friends gave Ben the hope and strength he needed to fight every day and continue to dream about his future: graduate from high school and college, get married, and start a family.
In 2003 Ben married his wife Kasiah and the couple began to plan for a future. Those plans included starting a family. Thanks to major advances in medical research, Ben and Kasiah were able to undergo a sperm washing treatment to ensure that their baby would be born HIV-free.
Today, inspired by the personal relationship Ben shared with Elizabeth Glaser during his childhood, Ben is a passionate spokesperson and advocate in the fight to end AIDS in children, working with EGPAF to help raise resources and awareness to end the AIDS epidemic.