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Brenda's Journey

University Communications

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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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Alma, a gentle woman in her late 40s, worries about her daughter's condition. There are so many unknowns. Brenda's health, the baby's. How will they pay for Brenda's medicine? Unless there's a cure, a miracle, she will have to take drugs the rest of her life.

In the household where she works as a nanny, Alma was crying so much that the lady of the house begged Alma to tell her what was wrong. At first she said Brenda had cancer. But she couldn't bear the deception. "What if I got the virus and Joshua got sick?" Alma asks, referring to the toddler she cares for. The woman hugged Alma, consoled her. She had friends with HIV, she said.

Brenda views herself as a classic example of the least likely person to be an AIDS statistic. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody," she says. "That's why I'm so open about it."

She refuses to give in to anger at the man who infected her. "He's not a bad person," she says. "He didn't do it on purpose. He doesn't want to see me die of AIDS." Like many women, she blames herself. "It was up to me to take care of myself."

The man is now sick, with symptoms of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. He is supposed to arrive in town any day, but the days pass and he doesn't show. Brenda has faith he will turn up; they talk a few times a week. He's excited about the baby. But Brenda has not told him she has HIV. "I don't want to tell him over the phone because I'm afraid of his reaction. He might go into a depression. And telling him -- it's not just him, it's his wife, his two kids. In that country there's no help. They let you die."

Brenda and other expectant mothers like her are the beneficiaries of a recent, major advance in the field of HIV. Researchers have found that treating mothers during pregnancy and delivery with AZT, and treating their infants with AZT after they are born, reduces the transmission rate dramatically, from 25 to less than 8 percent. Dr. Yvonne Bryson, codirector of UCLA's Maternal-Child Immunology Clinic and a leader in the field of pediatric AIDS, and her colleagues, were among the first to demonstrate this remarkable effect. "It's made a tremendous difference throughout the country," says Dr. Paul Krogstad, a leading AIDS pediatrician at UCLA.

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