Hiv And Children: The Burden Of Silence (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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HIV And Children: The Burden Of Silence

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our show today is all about survival and in just a few minutes, we'll find out what the seemingly glamorous life of the stage is really like and to hear about a new safety net that helps theater professionals in times of crisis. But first, an illness that's hit D.C. hard over the years, HIV/Aids.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:31
Today, more than 14,000 D.C. residents live with HIV. And among those infected, perhaps none are as vulnerable as children and adolescents. In the first part of our series on children with HIV, special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza talks with two young people about living with the disease. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:54
Kendra's childhood was a blur of medical appointments.

KENDRA

00:00:57
Getting your blood drawn, having to get shots, getting sick by a drop of a dime.

CARDOZA

00:01:01
Her mother didn't tell her what was wrong with her, but made her take 10 pills a day.

KENDRA

00:01:07
It was just hard because I would have to come in the house early and sit there and take medicine and everyone else was outside playing. Like, why? Why me?

CARDOZA

00:01:16
Kendra is 20 now. But she remembers when she was 13 and a doctor finally told her she was HIV positive.

KENDRA

00:01:24
I got really scared and freaked out and I was just crying hysterically. That was a wild day for me.

CARDOZA

00:01:29
Kendra had contracted the disease from her mother who apologized and sat sobbing beside her. But even as Kendra found out she had something in common with her mother, she realized she was different from other family members who don't have HIV.

KENDRA

00:01:43
I have a younger sibling and an older sibling who are perfectly normal and I'm not saying I'm not normal, I'm saying I have to wake up and think about this every day.

CARDOZA

00:01:59
To the outside, Kendra is bubbly and outgoing. She doesn't tell anyone about her diagnosis and says her secret is like carrying a heavy weight in her heart. She hasn't even told her best friend.

KENDRA

00:02:11
She would just look at me different and give me so much sympathy. And I wake up every day with a smile on my face because I'm waking up.

CARDOZA

00:02:20
When Kendra has an appointment, she just says she has to see her doctor and lets her friends assume what they want.

KENDRA

00:02:26
They possibly think it's sickle cell or something like that because I always come back with band aids on my arms. So they're like, oh, she's getting blood drawn, it's sickle cell.

CARDOZA

00:02:34
Kendra watches her friends go out on dates. Some even have children. She misses having a boyfriend.

KENDRA

00:02:40
You just really want to get to know a guy. You're at the age where you want to have sex, but you're scared.

CARDOZA

00:02:49
She remembers sitting through her 9th grade health class listening to her teacher talk about HIV. And all those anonymous questions asking for specific answers? No one knew they came from her.

KENDRA

00:03:00
It helped me learn how you can be a normal person and no one can ever know. So I thank God for that, that I still look normal.

CARDOZA

00:03:12
You look really stylish.

KENDRA

00:03:14
Thank you, thank you. I do this to encourage myself. I try to make at least the outside appearance look nice, even if I'm not having a wonderful day.

CARDOZA

00:03:24
Kendra says the one place she can be herself is at the hospital in the doctor's office.

KENDRA

00:03:29
Yes. Yes. Because everybody who knows me here knows that I have a problem. I feel really free and open and can just talk.

CARDOZA

00:03:45
Kendra has a full-time job and is also a full-time student. She says she tries hard to remember all the blessings in her life, but there are times, like one day recently, when she feels God has forgotten her.

KENDRA

00:03:57
I was in so much pain and I was so tired. And I just thought, like, when will it be over? That was the day I thought about death a lot.

CARDOZA

00:04:08
She's anxious about whether she might become like her mother who, after 25 years of living with HIV has, as Kendra puts it, more down than up days. She wonders whether she'll ever find a partner who will accept her diagnosis. And she always worries that someone might find out. But Kendra has also realized how strong she is.

KENDRA

00:04:27
I have HIV. HIV doesn't have me. I was put here for a reason. And I haven't fully met that potential. So I'm going to keep striving for it.

CARDOZA

00:04:38
Kendra was born with HIV. But in most cases, the virus is transmitted sexually. And even though it's the same disease that needs the same medications and the same support, young people who acquire HIV sexually often feel the stigma even more strongly. Luke, who's 18 now, was 12 when he first had sex with a classmate. When he was 14, he saw a video about safe sex in school and decided to get tested. But when it came time to get the results...

LUKE

00:05:06
I talked to my friend and they told me don't worry about it, you don't have it. So I did not go and get my results.

CARDOZA

00:05:13
Two years later, Luke donated blood and found out he was HIV positive.

LUKE

00:05:17
I walked out, my face was motionless. I was so confused.

CARDOZA

00:05:23
Luke says he knew unprotected sex put him at risk for HIV, he just didn't think it would happen to him.

LUKE

00:05:29
I was young. I was thinking it's everyone else's problem, not mine.

CARDOZA

00:05:33
This soft-spoken teenager doesn't allow himself to think about his life before HIV, whom he may have infected before he learned of his diagnosis or even who infected him.

LUKE

00:05:44
I just really have blocked that out of my head. I got to think forward.

CARDOZA

00:05:48
But in the early morning quiet, Luke admits he wishes he could rewind his life.

LUKE

00:05:53
Every day. Every day I wish I could live another life.

CARDOZA

00:05:56
Luke has told his two best friends about his diagnosis. With everyone else, he's quiet when the subject comes up.

LUKE

00:06:03
My friend the other day had a rash. He goes like, I was at the beach. The sand was irritating me. And he was like, eww, you've got AIDS, like, go away, you got cooties. I didn't say anything.

CARDOZA

00:06:14
He hasn't told a single family member. His mother works two jobs and he didn't want to upset her with the news.

LUKE

00:06:20
That's a pain that no parent wants to know. And if I was in her shoes, that's not the words I would want to hear from my child.

CARDOZA

00:06:28
Besides, Luke says, everyone has a secret they don't want anyone to know. This is his. And it's one that's easy to keep at home.

LUKE

00:06:35
My mom doesn't go through my room. I do my own doctor's appointments.

CARDOZA

00:06:39
Medicaid pays for Luke's treatment and medicines and he hides the paperwork. He's on one pill a day and doesn't have side effects. So nothing much has changed on a day-to-day basis. But he has changed as a person. Luke had plans for his future before his diagnosis. No more.

LUKE

00:06:56
I don't look forward to the rest of my life. I think I'm going to die young.

CARDOZA

00:07:02
He sees his life now, not in terms of years, but in terms of fun. So he goes out all the time with his friends. He has protected sex, but doesn't tell the girls he's with that he's HIV positive. He's determined to be optimistic.

LUKE

00:07:15
You can't just think of life like it's horrible, it's hard. I mean, it is hard. It is horrible. You fall down and you get right back up. You can't just sit there. You have to get right back up.

CARDOZA

00:07:27
These young people are trying their best to keep getting back up. But part of the challenge they face that they can't control is whether their friends, their families and the outside world can start seeing past their illness. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
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