There is a common belief that the face of AIDS is sickly, distorted, and skinny. Stereotypically, it belongs to a gay male, a black woman, a drug dealer or a prostitute. Looks can be deceiving.
Twenty years ago United Methodist Heidi Simon lost her fiancé’. It was fast and destructive. Just hours before his death, he was diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, Heidi was a 19-year-old college student playing two sports on scholarship. When she cried out to God after Alex’s death, her world only seemed to get quieter. After an initial test, the results were negative.
Ten years later, Heidi’s life was on track. She and her family had found a church to call home, Northampton United Methodist in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She had just given birth to her fourth son, Isaac Misael Ramirez. “Our family was complete and we felt very blessed to have a strong church family to support our journey,” said Heidi. “I had a great job, my husband had his career, and the kids were amazing.”
Just three months later, their world was in a tailspin. Baby Isaac began to experience medical complications. Doctors and specialists ran tests. Still, the family searched for answers. Eventually, Isaac landed at Akron Children’s Hospital, where a doctor ordered a full blood analysis—including an AIDS test. As Heidi signed the consent form, her stomach turned inside out.
Within two hours, Isaac was admitted into the PICU with non-specific hepatitis. They spent seven days in the hospital. Once home, Isaac’s pediatrician called and demanded that they return right away. After pressing for a reason, she said to Heidi, “Your son has AIDS and we need him back here for treatment immediately.”
Over the next three months, Isaac’s hospital room began to look like home. His siblings drew pictures and taped them to the walls. There were flowers, cards and toys. Heidi’s favorite gift was the Bible delivered by their pastor...
Isaac’s medical condition was a roller coaster ride. He would stabilize and the doctors would begin discussing a discharge plan. Then, his temperature and liver counts would spike and the pain would return. Baby Isaac endured three comas and several blood transfusions, biopsies, colonoscopies, endoscopies, and bronchoscopies. At one point, a code blue sounded across the hospital and doctors poured into the room working to pump blood back into his tiny, deprived body. The doctors took note of his smile on several occasions, marveling that he must know something they did not.
Isaac slipped into yet another coma. The doctor, with tears in his eyes, informed Heidi that her son would probably not make it through the night. On the rare chance of survival, he was certain to suffer from severe brain damage.
The church held a prayer vigil for Isaac as the pastor came to the baby’s side. “After he left, I realized Isaac was one of the many gifts the Lord had blessed me with, and this child who laid motionless in front of me was not truly mine, but he belonged to the Lord,” said Heidi. “He placed a sense of peace in my heart that if at that moment God called him home, I would have been OK. I was reassured that Isaac was going to grow strong and accomplish wonderful things.” Near-death, Isaac began to giggle and take his own breaths. His monitors began to sound and the medical team rushed to his side—all in disbelief of what they were witnessing.
Over the next couple of weeks, Isaac’s fan base grew as quickly as his strength. Doctors and nurses came from all corners of the hospital to “see his infectious smile” and “check on his progress”. He truly was a miracle! On September 9, 2001 Isaac was released to go home.
Though there are occasional setbacks from the virus’ presence in his brain, Isaac is now a thriving 10-year-old boy who excels in school and sports. He loves to share his story and wants others to understand that the face of AIDS sometimes looks angelic.
As Heidi reaches two decades of infection, the virus seems to be gaining ground on her, but she says, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to make a deal with MY God. I know that His plan for me is the only one I need and I trust that when I have completed my work here on Earth, He will call me home. “
Heidi and her family live in Phoenix, Arizona where they moved in 2002 in order for Isaac to receive the best medical care available for children living with HIV. Due to recent legislation passed in Arizona, the family is on the verge of no longer being able to afford the medicine and care Isaac needs.
On World AIDS Day, this December 1, please join Heidi, her family, and other United Methodists in the fight to end this disease with 20/20: Visioning an AIDS- Free World. Find resources and ideas for your congregation at http://2020aidsfreeworld.org/#/resources.
The face of AIDS isn’t always a gay male, a black woman, a drug dealer or a prostitute. Sometimes it is a 39-year-old mother of 4 and her vibrant 10-year-old son.