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Mom with AIDS won't deal with guardianship of children
Feb 28, 2003

My husband and I are the guardians of two children from Zambia (ages 8 & 11). Their mother is HIV positive and almost died from opportunistic infections last year (systemic TB). She was unaware of her HIV status at the time of her illness, but has since been tested and is on lots of meds, both for HIV & TB. She is doing well on the medication, and has returned to school and work.

My question is about the children. We had them tested and they are both HIV negative. They live with us full-time (this started a year ago when Mom was so sick) and continue to stay with us, even though Mom is well enough to care for them physically. She won't talk about her HIV status with us, she refused to have the children tested (we had to do it without her consent), she has pulled away from her children emotionally and we are concerned for their future. They are also not US citizens and will be deported if their mother dies, even though we are their guardians. We would like to adopt them, but want her to remain as actively involved in their lives as she is able to be (both emotionally and physically).

My question is, how do I talk with her about her mortality, is AIDS likely to take her life before her children are grown and how do I help her cope with a disease that she is in denial about?

There are also cultural issues, African women do not usually take responsibility for these types of decisions, her husband died of AIDS in Zambia before she and the children came to this country and she just doesn't want to talk about her illness. She seems to think that she will live a long, full and healthy life now that she has the wonderful medicines of the United States to keep her alive. Is she right? Should we be making long-term plans for the children? Noone has given me any answers about the longevity of AIDS patients, perhaps there aren't any easy answers.

Thank you Nita

Response from Mr. Shernoff

There are not any aboslute answers about any person's longevity even if he or she is on combination therapies. I think that all you can do is sit down with her and using the well being of the children as the reason for the conversation, and stating that your interests are to best insure that her wishes are carried out if something does happen to her. Other than that, with all of the cultural differences, I am unsure of how to advise you.

SOrry not to be more helpful.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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