Changing the face of the epidemic
Chris Hudnall, EGPAF’s Senior Program Coordinator for Research, has been with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) almost from the beginning. During his 19 years at EGPAF, he has watched the organization grow to impact the lives of millions of people worldwide, beginning with the research that started it all. Here, Chris recounts how EGPAF changed the face of the AIDS epidemic.
How were you introduced to EGPAF?
“Originally, I learned of EGPAF (then known as the Pediatric AIDS Foundation) by reading a People magazine article about Elizabeth Glaser and her family’s struggle with HIV and AIDS.
In 1994, I responded to an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times for an assistant position for a children’s non-profit without knowing it was EGPAF. When I was called back for an interview, I arrived at a very small office in a warehouse district in Santa Monica and saw the EGPAF logo for the first time. The energy in the office was electric. And while it was a very small group, you had a strong sense that they were doing great things for children living with HIV and AIDS. I began working full-time at EGPAF in June 1994.”
How did you enter the field of HIV/AIDS research?
“I learned about research (grants administration and management) through the many programs that EPGAF was funding in the early days, including basic research; scholar awards; student internships; long-term survivor, studies; and early treatment studies.In the early days, we organized many think tanks to develop ideas to improve current HIV programs and to develop new programs. We also held grant reviews each year with some of the leading international HIV/AIDS researchers and scientists serving as EGPAF committee members and advisors. It was very exciting to hear the exchange of ideas around new HIV/AIDS research. You knew that the people in the room were changing the face of the epidemic.”
How did you meet Elizabeth Glaser?
“I met Elizabeth a few times after I started working at EGPAF. She wasn’t coming in to the office much when I first started with EGPAF, but she attended a think tank we held in the fall of 1994. Despite being very sick at the time, she still had the strength to stand up and ask really important questions about how the research would help children living with HIV/AIDS, especially her son Jake. I was amazed that Susie, Susan, and Elizabeth were so involved in the reviews and think tanks. If they did not understand something about the research, they were not afraid to ask a question or even provide their thoughts for going in a different direction.
After lunch on the last day of the think tank, Elizabeth was tired and asked if I’d like to join her outside. We sat on a blanket and she asked me how I liked working in an office with so many women. For the past few months, I had seen these passionate, smart, and wouldn’t-take-no-for-an-answer women in action and knew they would get the job done. I was honored to be working with them because I felt that, if moms ruled the world, it would be a better place.”
“Elizabeth passed away at home a couple of months later, in December 1994. Her memorial service in Malibu was one of the most beautiful services I had ever attended. I felt then that EGPAF would continue its work and go on to change the lives of children living with HIV. She and her friends had laid the foundation for a cause that would spread internationally.”
What motivates you to keep working at EGPAF?
“I’m motivated by the fact that EGPAF’s youngest HIV-infected ambassadors are now having children and leading healthy lives. Elizabeth did not live long enough to see newer HIV drugs such as nevirapine, protease/integrase inhibitors, or combination drug regimens. It was research in the early days that led to the development of these drugs. She had a hand in those efforts. And many are alive and living well with HIV because of research into the virus. She also did not live to see the day when programs that reduce maternal transmission to infants would be so far reaching. From an office that started with fewer than 10 employees to where we are today – that is astounding.
“It’s wonderful to know that we’ve been able to cut HIV transmission rates so low in the U.S., and to know that we are now working toward the same in Africa. A mother or father’s love for their child does not change across latitude or longitude. You saw that understanding and love in Elizabeth’s eyes when she spoke of change. That same passion, love, and caring are felt by all parents and I think they share her vision for a world free of HIV and AIDS.”
How would Elizabeth feel about EGPAF and its work now?
“Elizabeth did not want Jake to suffer like her daughter Ariel had. If you’ve seen Jake today, he’s a living testament to what she desired in her heart. The love, strength, and courage that she lived with to the end of her days are carried on through EGPAF’s reach around the world. I believe she would be astonished by what she, Susie, and Susan have accomplished. Nothing compares to having seen the three of them on a stage together. Now, it’s a global stage, and that spirit lives on every day.”
My first A Time for Heroes, 1995
EGPAF staff, 1996
Susie Zeegen's birthday party, 1997