July 16, 2015
Helen leaned against the wall of the living room as she told her story, holding a plate piled with chapati and stew. She is a slight woman, maybe 5’ 3” and 100 lbs soaking wet, so I couldn’t imagine what she had looked like at the peak of her sickness. She had found out about her status while she was pregnant with her youngest child, and chose to ignore the diagnosis for a few months. She had not been unfaithful, and her husband claimed to be HIV negative, so had no idea
Months after that initial diagnosis, toward the end of her pregnancy, Helen felt miserable. When she went to the clinic they were shocked that she was still alive- her CD4 count had fallen to 2, whereas a healthy count should be closer to 800. The clinic gave her the appropriate medication and scheduled multiple follow- ups to ensure that her baby would survive delivery.
Helen was surprisingly upbeat while she told us about the bad days—days when she was sure she would lose the baby and when she would lock herself in her house and lie in the floor, unable to get up to move to the bed. One scene that Helen painted so vividly was the night a few weeks before her due date – she had pleaded with God to allow her to live so that she could raise her children.
The day I spent with Helen was the day before she graduated from the CARE for AIDS program. She had heard about CARE for AIDS from a neighbor, who ended up being one of her classmates in the center in Githurai. As we cooked dinner together, her son, who she had been pregnant with when she found out about her status, was running around the compound playing with the other kids.
We say the phrase orphan prevention a lot in CARE for AIDS literature, but I don’t ever want it to lose its meaning with use. Helen’s life isn’t perfect. She still sometimes struggles to make ends meet, and some people in the community still discriminate against her because of her status… but she is alive and thriving. She is doing an amazing job raising her children. Her prayers were answered and we are honored to have been a part of her transformation- a transformation from death to live that has forever changed the course of her family.