The Boys of Her Heart: From Kenya to American Family Children's Hospital

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Three boys from Kenya visiting American Family Children's HospitalMADISON - She has lived in their world. Now she wants to show them hers.
After raising $8,200 from friends and people who simply liked the idea, UW Hospital and Clinics nurse clinician Susan Gold was able to introduce George, Brian and John, three of the boys for whom she cared at a home for HIV-positive orphans outside Nairobi, Kenya, to American Family Children's Hospital, Madison and a world about which they'd only imagined.
Gold has been visiting Africa since 2003, offering her services to Nyumbani, the home of the three boys who arrived in Chicago (via London) Saturday and spent Monday touring American Family Children's Hospital.
Two boys visiting from Kenya with Dr. James Conway             at American Family Children's Hospital
Dr. James Conway tracks the boys' travels on a map at the hospital.
"I wanted to show them America," said Gold. "I wanted them to see how many people cared about them and to let them know that the world is out there, and it's worth taking their medicine so they can see it."
George, Brian and John (13, 10 and 13 years old, respectively) were diagnosed HIV-positive at birth and have lived at Nyumbani most of their lives. Their situation is by no means unique. Africa has roughly 60 percent of the world's HIV cases and the number of orphaned children is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Sexual health education is lacking - in a previous interview Gold quantified HIV-transmission knowledge by saying, "On a scale of zero to 10, American kids would be a 10 and Kenyan kids would be a 0.5." - and HIV-positive kids are too frequently shunned or abandoned.
Three boys visiting from Kenya in the American             Family Children's Hospital Positive Image Center
The boys assess their new looks in the Positive Image Center.
Gold says the three boys are relatively lucky, though the conditions they live in would strike many Americans as difficult.
"They have food and a safe place to sleep. They get reasonably good medical care," she said. "Outside the home, the schools aren't very good. There's a lot of strife, famine. They're really subjected to the stigma that goes along with being HIV-positive."
Gold hopes the two weeks the three are spending in the United States, which will include a trip to Washington, D.C., will expand their conception of life's possibilities.
After a morning experiment during which they were taught by UW scientists how to extract DNA from strawberries, the boys were joined by American Family Children's Hospital Vice President Jeff Poltawsky and Dr. James Conway, who also knows the three boys from his work in Kenya.
They popped their heads into the hospital's first-floor movie theater and said hello to James Savage, who heads up the Kohl's Safety Center. The tour also included stops in unoccupied patient and examination rooms, and the boys proved that teenage goofiness knows no geographic boundaries as they giggled at the decidedly female wigs each tried on in the Positive Image Center, which supplies wigs, hats and scarves to chemotherapy patients.
The tour concluded in the office of UW Hospital and Clinics President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky, who presented the boys with gift bags that included American Family Children's Hospital t-shirts and baseball caps.
Gold calls George, Brian and John the "boys of my heart," because they are three to whom she has grown closest in her trips to Kenya. But their numbers underscored the difficult task the nation faces in confronting a still-potent HIV scourge. "The boys of my heart" originally numbered seven. Four have died in the intervening years.
"They're not forgotten children," Gold said. "There is a name and a face to the children of Africa, and there is a name and a face to the Americans who care about them."

Date Published: 04/28/2009

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