A tale of two sons

In this blog post, Malaria Griot, mom and ONE member Kristen Swanson shares her amazing story about her family’s personal experience with HIV/AIDS and the efforts to fight the disease in Africa.

Matthew and Will Swanson

I have two sons, and one of my sons has four brothers.

A riddle?

No, just a family blended by the great adventure of 10 years in Africa, the tragedy of AIDS and the joy of adoption. Matthew was born in the US, but grew up in Tanzania, inseparable from his best friend, Will. When Will’s mom lost her battle with AIDS, we adopted him as a young teen and brought him with us when we moved back to Pennsylvania. He now makes us proud as an engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh.

For a few years, we lost track of Will’s youngest brother, Rama, who spent time in a village with relatives. Then, in 2007, my daughter and I visited Mtwara, our old home in Tanzania, and found him back with his grandmother and the other grandchildren she cared for so well. Sadly, we discovered that Rama, the little boy Will had watched out for as a young boy, had contracted HIV from his mom at birth. But at 13, Rama was still attending school, playing soccer and growing into a teenager himself.


Joanna, Rama and older brother Jackson

We had left Tanzania in 2000, a time when anyone who contracted HIV could expect to live only a few years. But Rama seemed to be doing amazingly well! His brothers and grandmother had been caring for him, faithfully taking him for antiretroviral medications that PEPFAR had provided to so many in Africa. We were anxious to see him, but on the day we visited, he was at school — with the same teacher that Will had known years before.

Just before we saw Rama at school, he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in addition to AIDS. At the time, I was afraid that it would be too much for any boy to bear, but Rama has even beaten TB, and is still thriving! This is more than I had ever hoped for, after having lost my own cousin to AIDS in 1991, then living in East Africa in the earlier years when HIV was a hopeless diagnosis. But so much progress has been made since then. In fact, nearly 4 million Africans have been placed on life-preserving antiretroviral treatment for AIDS since 2002.

I am so proud to be part of a nation that extends the miracle of life to kids like Rama, not a stranger or a statistic, but my son’s little brother. He is living proof that our investments are working and that more can be done to save lives.

For more personal stories like these, visit the Living Proof website, and be sure to celebrate the proof with friends and family, too.
-Kristen Swanson, ONE member and Malaria Griot