Tanya: United States
February 3, 2010
Tanya and Damian on Halloween. (Photo: the Torres family)
On February 2, 2010, Tanya passed away after a four-month battle with pneumonia and other medical issues. She was 26.
Tanya, a single mother to her son Damian, had been part of the Foundation family since the very beginning. She represented the Foundation as a Family Ambassador, and was a mentor to other children and young adults living with HIV.
Tanya had a tattoo that read “Fighter,” and that was the best way to describe her. Even through her own struggles, Tanya always wanted to get involved, speak out, and do whatever she could to help achieve the Foundation's mission. She was completely unafraid to share her personal story, had a perfect sense of humor, and always gave it to you straight. We love her and we’ll miss her.
Read Tanya's story, in her own words, below.
I acquired HIV from a blood transfusion when I was a newborn. I learned I was infected when I was five years old.
The doctors told me I would die before I turned 10.
Growing up HIV-positive was challenging for me, as it is for so many other kids. I had to take a lot of medication, often with terrible side effects. When I was seven, I was so sure I was going to die that I planned my own funeral. I wanted to be buried with a doll that I had since I was a baby. And I wanted the inside of my casket to be green, because it’s my favorite color.
When I turned 10, I couldn’t sleep at night because I thought I would die. Then one day I decided I was going to live. I was going to fight. And I would never give up again. And thankfully, neither did Elizabeth Glaser, who worked so hard for children.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was excited and terrified at the same time. I was excited because I was having a baby — something I never thought was possible growing up with HIV. And I was terrified because I kept thinking, “What if I give my baby this horrible disease?”
But fortunately I had access to medicines that could save my baby. I also had a C-section to further reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to my son. I took every precaution that was available to me.
When Damian was born, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Of course, it’s never easy. We took several tests in the first 18 months after Damian’s birth. Some were negative, but there were also some false positives. The moments when I thought that maybe I passed this virus onto my son were the worst of my life. I couldn’t imagine any child going through what I did, let alone my own baby.
When Damian was two, we found out he was HIV-negative for sure. I feel so lucky that Damian is healthy. And I truly feel for all the mothers around the world who don’t have access to the medicines that can protect their babies from HIV.
So we have to keep trying harder. I know first-hand that mothers will do anything to save their babies. We just need to reach them and educate them so they know there is hope.