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One Day at at Time

Hydeia Broadbent was born HIV-positive and is celebrating her 15th birthday. But she takes real pride in her role as an AIDS spokesperson.


Hydeia Broadbent has known AIDS all 15 years of her life. She's felt it ravage her body through countless infections and sleepless nights flushed with fever. Even as medication has stabilized her condition, she knows she hasn't felt the last of it yet.

But as she stands quietly in the wilting afternoon heat, her orange plaid bathing suit electric against her ebony skin, she wears an expression that assures, somehow, everything will be all right.

Today is Hydeia's birthday, and at least 40 friends and family have come to her mother's north Las Vegas home to swim, dance, eat Uncle Walt's barbecued chicken and sing happy birthday.

As she watches them lovingly encircle her, she arches her back slightly and lets a smile sweep slowly across her face.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 30, 1999 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction; Wire
AIDS activist--A July 13 story in Southern California Living on AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent should have stated the Las Vegas teen accepts honorariums for public appearances but gives the money to the Los Angeles-based Hydeia Broadbent Foundation.

"I'm 15 years old," she sings when they are done, directing a knife toward the vanilla cake with blue icing balloons.

"I'm 15 years old, finally."

Which is reason enough to celebrate.

"When she was 3 1/2," says Patricia Broadbent, Hydeia's mother, "doctors said she wouldn't live past 5. I never thought I'd ever see this day."

Nor, she says, did she expect that Hydeia, who is just 4 feet, 6 inches and 74 pounds, would become a leading figure in the national struggle for AIDS awareness.

In her delicate but steady voice, Hydeia has spoken in school classrooms from Birmingham, Ala., to Los Angeles, in seminars and on television shows, reaching both children and adults in ways medical experts or celebrity spokespersons could never do.

"If there's one thing I can do with my life," Hydeia has said, "it's to help people see how AIDS is tearing apart the black community, tearing apart lives like mine."

Hydeia, whose biological mother was an intravenous drug addict who abandoned her and died before they could ever meet, now describes AIDS as a "choice" disease.

People make choices, she says, about sex and drugs, that affect themselves and other people.

But this afternoon, as hip-hop music such as TLC's "No Scrubs" pulses through the slow, dry air, Hydeia dances in a circle with her sisters and acquits herself, only, as the birthday girl.

"There aren't any celebrities here today," says Patricia, who has five other children and gave up a career in social services when she discovered that Hydeia--at 3 1/2 years old--was HIV-positive. "No one gets any special treatment in this house."

But the autographed pictures scattered throughout the family's modest one-story home showing Hydeia arm in arm with Janet Jackson and, in another, with Lakers star Kobe Bryant suggest otherwise.

So does a phone call during the party from pop singer Lauryn Hill, wishing the teenager a happy birthday and telling her she is looking forward to seeing her next week in New Orleans, when Hydeia is to speak during a music festival and empowerment seminar.

It's just one of several events Hydeia will attend this summer now that classes are out and, for the time being anyway, her health is good.

The most important trips, however, are the ones she and her mother take to the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md. Since age 5, about the time the virus developed into AIDS, Hydeia has been a patient at the institute, which provides free medication and subsidized travel expenses.

This summer she will spend nine days in Bethesda while being introduced to a new medication, which her doctors hope will ward off another virus Hydeia suffers from called Epstein-Barr virus.

Patricia sought out the facility after Hydeia was first diagnosed, at a time when, she says, the Las Vegas medical community had little experience or interest in treating AIDS.

"When I brought Hydeia in to be tested," says Patricia, "the doctor was wearing goggles, yellow boots, a surgical mask and about three pairs of gloves. I told Hydeia, 'If he starts leading you to a spaceship, you start yelling.' "

They Fight the Stigma

Misunderstanding Brings

It was also a time when both Hydeia and her mother learned to deal with the misconceptions and prejudices that pervaded the community.

"One day I sneezed at school," recalls Hydeia, "and the teacher sprayed me with bleach."

"The nursery wouldn't take her," Patricia says, "even though she had gone there for three years before anyone knew she was HIV-positive. Nobody wanted to deal with the problem."

So Patricia banded together with the two other Las Vegas parents with HIV-infected children and formed REACH Out (which stands for Relieving Every AIDS Child's Hurt), to eliminate the stigma surrounding the disease.

"She was a black girl and the child of an IV drug user," Patricia says. "I wasn't willing to add the prejudice of being an AIDS baby to her baggage."

Hydeia's mother began speaking at civic and business meetings in Las Vegas but soon found that Hydeia was the more persuasive speaker.

Inside the house, a tape of the Essence magazine awards plays on the television and several young girls in bathing suits and towels make their way over to watch.

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