I Will Live

I Will Live

By: Brandy Campbell, with Ezra Ndagije in Uganda   |   Posted: February 07, 2008

Antiretroviral therapy provides hope for a future

Godfrey is on antiretroviral therapy, which he takes every day. This three-drug combination comprises Truvada, Kaletra and Septrin and is accompanied by multivitamins to boost his immune system.

Godfrey understands that tomorrow is not a promise. He is reminded of the fragility of life each morning as he walks across the cold dirt floor of his family's home in Uganda. This 20-year-old's daily routine doesn't begin with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. Instead, he steps outside into the chilly gray morning and, with a few pushes of the rusty water pump handle, fills a tin cup.

Back inside, Godfrey opens a bottle and carefully taps a large white pill into the cap. He drops the pill in his mouth, quickly chasing the bitter taste with cold water and a large spoonful of gritty porridge. While the pill is still a lump in his throat, he follows it with a second one. Then a third. It's a scene that he will repeat for the rest of his life.

Godfrey's morning ritual is tedious but he never complains. He knows that nearly 70 percent of people living with AIDS in Africa have no access to medical treatment. But thanks to Compassion's AIDS Initiative, Godfrey is now among the millions of people around the world surviving AIDS. His story is one of hope. But it wasn't always that way.

"& I feared I was going to die."

When Godfrey was 12, he became one of sub- Saharan Africa's 12 million AIDS orphans. But the nightmare was only beginning. Just days after the death of his mother, Godfrey began exhibiting familiar symptoms. He tried to hide his rapid weight loss, but his older sister, Annette, was not fooled.

"A few weeks after burying our mother, I started feeling very weak and falling sick," remembers Godfrey. "Annette suggested that she take me to the hospital for the HIV test. We went to Rubaga, a nearby hospital, for the test. The results showed that I was HIV-positive. I cried because I feared that I was going to die."

Godfrey begged his sister to take him to Mulago Hospital, Uganda's largest, for a second test. As he stood in the hospital's dingy halls waiting for a nurse to take a vial of blood, he prayed that the results would be different.

They weren't.

A Desperate Plan

Godfrey's neighbors quickly realized the boy was suffering from the same disease that took his parents. Their taunts soon followed. "No child with HIV lives past 15," adults in his community shouted at him. Godfrey believed the death sentence his neighbors proclaimed believed that he would die an agonizing death, just like his parents. So he decided that the only way to beat AIDS was to take his own life.

"I got a rope, tied it on a high branch, and tried to hang myself," recalls Godfrey. "For some reason, the rope snapped before I died. I do not know what happened, because the ropes were strong. My only explanation is that God wanted me to live."

It wasn't until after his failed suicide attempt that Godfrey finally revealed his status to the workers at his Compassion-assisted child development center. Even though the center staff had long provided Godfrey and his siblings with food, clothes and school supplies, he didn't believe that they were powerful enough to battle AIDS.

Godfrey may not have had hope, but the workers at the Compassion-assisted center weren't about to give up. His social worker, Lillian, quickly linked Godfrey with Mulago Hospital's pediatric clinic for AIDS patients. Godfrey's CD4 counts, which measure the body's disease-fighting cells, had fallen below 200 (normal CD4 counts in adults range from 500 to 1,500), and he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. But doctors at the clinic also had good news for Godfrey.

"The doctors started me on antiretroviral therapy (ART)," says Godfrey. "They told me, 'If you keep the discipline of taking these dugs as prescribed, you have a chance to live a very long life.' That statement changed my attitude about life. I now decided to have a positive attitude towards life because I knew I was going to live a long time."

The Challenges of ART

Through your support of Compassion's AIDS Initiative, Godfrey joined more than 6,500 Compassion-assisted children, caregivers and siblings receiving antiretroviral therapy. A daily ritual, this therapy combines three medicines that attack HIV on different levels. Currently, Godfrey takes Truvada and Kaletra, which decrease HIV's ability to replicate and form new viruses, as well as Septrin, which prevents infections.

Antiretroviral therapy is not without side effects and challenges. "When I started these drugs my fingernails turned black," says Godfrey. "I had to go back to the hospital so they could give me another medicine to help with that. But now color is returning, and I am feeling much better."

Godfrey's social worker, Lillian, maintains constant contact, ensuring that any side effects he has are treated immediately. She also travels with Godfrey to the pediatric clinic for his treatment each month.

"Compassion's ART program is special because we offer nutritional support, CD4 count testing, psychosocial support, treatment of opportunistic infections and transportation assistance, along with income generation support and housing repair when needed," says Amy Metzger, International Health Program Specialist for Compassion International. "Our social workers follow up in the home to check on patients, and they monitor their treatment and address any needs they may have."

Knowledge Means Life

Godfrey says the Compassion health specialist has taught him a lot about the virus he battles daily. "I have learned that, unlike malaria and other curable diseases, HIV remains in your blood system, even when you are on the ART," says Godfrey. "Once the virus has found a way in one's body, it does not leave the blood system. So, even when I'm feeling better, I know that I need to still take my medicines."

That knowledge is the reason Godfrey gets up every morning at 5 a.m. to begin his therapy. Compassion's nutritional support ensures that Godfrey can always take his medicine on a full stomach, preventing the nausea and sickness that plagues many patients on antiretroviral therapy.

Godfrey's discipline, paired with the support of the AIDS Initiative, is essential to the success of his treatment. Godfrey carefully follows his doctor's plan. And Godfrey has the constant, daily support of the Compassion staff who visit him regularly, offering physical as well as emotional support.

"The project staff has been a big support for me in many ways," says Godfrey. "I am now able to help other children both at the project and also at school. They have encouraged me to strengthen my hope in God, and I share this hope with others. Day by day, I encourage myself in God. I know He will keep me to the end. I will live."

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