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Brenda's Journey

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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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To attack the virus in her own body and protect the life of her unborn child, Brenda is taking AZT and 3TC, a frequently prescribed drug combination for those in the early stages of HIV.

She will remain on the drugs unless side effects develop or she develops symptoms of AIDS or they no longer work. Since January, her T-cells have shot up from 300 to 800, and the virus in her blood has dropped from 12,000 to less than 200 [ck: what is the measure? 200 what?], both encouraging signs.

Still, she will be unable to breastfeed her baby because it increases the risk of transmission by as much as 50 percent. At age 25, Brenda must make many tough decisions at once. She must decide, for instance, whether she should undergo a tubal ligation after the baby's birth. The practical side of her pushes the surgery, the maternal side pulls against. "You find out you're sick, you feel you have less chances than everybody else," she says. "Here, I'm already thinking I can't have any more babies because I'm going to die."

Most of the time her spirits are good. "She has a wonderful attitude," says Deborah Wafer, Brenda's nurse practitioner, an outgoing woman in her 40s who works at UCLA's Maternal-Child Clinic. The clinic, one of the few places in Southern California devoted to the medical and social-service needs of HIV-positive women and their children, is where Brenda and her baby will receive care.

As she waits for the baby, she tries to think there's a reason for what happened. "I have a goal now," she explains. "To take care of me, to take care of my baby, to find out as much as I can about the sickness I have and to teach people about it. Because I'm not ashamed."

Gail Wyatt is spearheading a landmark study by UCLA AIDS researchers that will provide long-needed data on how women are grappling with AIDS. Funded last year with a $4-million National Institute of Mental Health grant, the Women and Family Project will follow the path of HIV in both minority and nonminority women for two years. All told, the study will examine the lives of 200 HIV-positive and 200 HIV-negative women. To date, more than 160 women, from throughout Los Angeles, ranging in age from 18 to 62, have been enrolled.

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