The HIV "Cure" and the Babe Effect

What do you tell her about hope?

The movie Babe is about a little pig who could. Babe, the pig, really really wants to be a sheepdog, and by the end of the movie, he gets to live his dream.  I left that movie thinking both that Babe was so exceptional as a character that he really didn’t matter (to other pigs) and that you couldn’t help but get hope from Babe.

The same might be said of the announcement earlier this week that a Berlin patient was cured of HIV by a bone marrow transplant he’d received for leukemia in 2007. As Carolyn noted, the announcement came along with news that great strides have been made in the reduction of transmission of the disease. Heather also reported that great progress is being made in fighting the disease.  Still,  reports today suggest that the cure that made headlines earlier this week might be an example of a scientific Babe.  Amazing news for one guy, a hopeful story for everyone, but not applicable to most.  Why? It’s well known that once a match for a bone marrow transplant is found, the procedure itself is risky, complicated and expensive.  Those facts alone make the procedure untenable as a cure for most.  In this particular case, though, according to ABC News, the donor of the bone marrow that the patient received carries a genetic variation that prevents the virus from entering a cell.  About one in 100 people in central Europe carry this variation.  That the donor was a match and carried that genetic variation?  Extraordinary.

Still, when you’re talking about deadly diseases, you don’t want to give up hope.  As parents, we’re charged with carrying around a great deal of hope and confidence and bravado when it comes to sharing news of illness and the fear of death.  We tell our kids they’ll die when they’re very old. That we, their parents, will die when we’re very old. That people who get sick will get better unless they’re very old. Our parents probably told us the same thing.  We have to hold tight to hope and the exceptional story, it drives the research after all, and still recognize some news as  the exception to the rule.

How do you talk to your kids about illness? How do you keep them hopeful?

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