How to Tell a 10-Year-Old She Has HIV

HIV-positive since birth, 'JJ' finally learns the truth
By Brownie Marie,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2015 3:53 PM CDT
Updated Sep 26, 2015 11:44 AM CDT
How to Tell a 10-Year-Old She Has HIV
   (Shutter Stock)

"She’s 10. She has HIV. And she’s about to learn the truth." So begins a nearly 5,000-word article detailing the story of a girl in Washington, DC, identified only as JJ, gleaned from five months the Washington Post spent shadowing her with her adoptive mother's permission. JJ was born with HIV and has been cared for by her adoptive mother since she was an infant. Her viral load is high, and she struggles to take the many medications that keep her healthy and alive. Doctors hoped that learning why she has to take the pills would encourage her to be more diligent, but it is also their responsibility to tell her before she reaches puberty. Still, 10 is young. Doctors more typically inform these children around age 12 or 13—the determination of the right time takes weeks of discussion and planning.

But JJ heard her sister say "HIV" on a March phone call, and her mother "panicked," writes John Woodrow Cox. And as Cox explains, the news of her disease would come "with a pair of contradictory directives" that might be challenging for a youngster to understand: "Don't be ashamed, but keep the virus a secret." When the day—June 17—finally comes, a doctor at Children's National Medical Center tells JJ that she has a virus called HIV. Some people who don't know any better say cruel things about people who have HIV, the doctor continues, and JJ should not tell her friends about it. But, she adds, many people with HIV go on to have jobs, families, and full lives. "JJ stared at the wall and opened her mouth," writes Cox. "For 14 seconds, no words came out. 'I feel okay,' she said at last." Read the rest of JJ's story at the Post. (More HIV stories.)

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