Forging an AIDS-Free Future, One #YouthVoice at a Time
As an HIV advocate and ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), I often draw the courage to speak out from many other brave young people around the world. The voices of Malala Yousafzai, Michel Chikwanine, Hannah Alper and Ally Del Monte -- to name only a few -- inspire me to share my own story of living with HIV in order to effect real, lasting change that will lead to the AIDS-free future we're working towards.
Globally, there are more than 2.1 million teenagers who are living with HIV, and I am one of them. Like almost all children who are HIV-positive, my birth mother passed the virus onto me when I was born. By six weeks of age, my HIV had already progressed to AIDS and I was on life support. Doctors predicted I only had a few weeks to live.
It was 1998. Many people knew very little about HIV and were still very afraid of the virus. After more than 200 phone calls and rejections, doctors finally found a couple that would take me in and care for me during what they believed would be the last few weeks of my life: Don and Kari Murphy.
The Murphys already had their hands full. They were raising five children at the time, all with special needs, but they still felt that they could offer me love. They feared that I would die alone in a cradle, so they never put me down. I was in a sling or in their arms or laying in between them in their bed for almost a year. I was not just loved, I was beloved -- and I knew it. I kept getting stronger and growing. Doctors diagnosed me with mild cerebral palsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and a learning disability, but I persevered. I worked hard to overcome my physical and learning disabilities. I gained weight, and learned how to walk and talk.
I still can't ride a bike or skate, but I did learn how to use my voice. In a big, boisterous family like mine, if you want the last cookie, you'd better speak up! And since then, I've never been afraid to stand up for myself or for others.
Read more about Ashley and her role as an EGPAF Ambassador here