Today is World AIDS Day. The internet is full of smart, informative posts about HIV and AIDS and I encourage you to read them, be educated, fight stigma, and support organizations working toward those goals.
Today my heart is missing Kalkidan, and this is what I want you to know about HIV.
In 2006, when we began the process of adopting Kalkidan, we knew very little about HIV. We worried about the safety of our other children – could they get it by living with her? Would she be sick all the time? Could she ever marry and have children? Would she die?
Thankfully, there were smart people to answer our questions and we learned that there has never been a case of HIV transmission in a normal family environment. You can’t get HIV from saliva – kissing, sharing food and utensils. You can’t get it from sharing a bathroom. It’s just not that easy to get HIV.
The precautions we took were really just common sense. We taught our children never to touch another person’s blood. Later, on the recommendation of one of my best friends, who is an HIV specialist, we altered that to say, “If it’s wet, and it’s not yours, don’t touch it.” A little more graphic, but truly important.
Kalkidan took medication twice a day, every day, and sometimes that was hard for her. She didn’t want to be the kid who had to take meds to camp or on a sleepover, but she understood that the powerful drugs were saving her life.
We traveled to Seattle Children’s four times a year to see our favorite doctor and monitor Kalkidan’s health. She had so little of the virus in her blood that she was considered “undetectable.”
Kalkidan had big dreams – HIV was not going to stop her.
In the nearly ten years since our early questions, we’ve come to know and love many people living with HIV. The greatest challenge most of them face is dealing with the stigma. We hadn’t yet reached the point of navigating dating and romantic relationships for Kalkidan, and I expect living with HIV would have become more complicated for her at that point.
When Kalkidan died, we set up the Kalkidan Memorial REACH Fund. Our family unanimously agreed that REACH Camp was the highlight of Kalkidan’s year and it would make her happy to give something back. REACH is more than just camp, all year long REACH fosters safe community for children, families, and young adults affected by HIV.
REACH is a small organization; I personally know each person who works there. Every dollar is wisely spent. Please consider donating to Kalkidan’s fund as part of World AIDS Day, or with your year-end giving. Gifts will be used to make REACH available to other children like Kalkidan. When you donate, be sure to note it is for Kalkidan’s fund; it gives us joy when donations are made in her name.
Thank you for loving Kalkidan, caring about our family, and stopping by to read today. You are a blessing to me.