All Grown Up
BY Benjamin Ryan
November 18 2010 5:00 AM ET
“I just want people to know that we’re just normal people,” Hydeia Broadbent pleaded to a fellow guest on an HIV-themed segment of a children’s talk show she was appearing on in 1992.
She was just 7 years old at the time, an apple-cheeked little cherub with intricate braids, hoop earrings, and an embroidered Sunday school dress, her feet dangling off the edge of her seat. When it came time for her to open up, she burst into tears. The fellow guest -- none other than Magic Johnson, who at the time had only recently made public that he too was living with HIV -- consoled her tenderly. “You don’t have to cry,” he said, while an overwhelmed Broadbent rubbed her eyes and sobbed.
The image, searchable on YouTube, is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking -- because Broadbent is now a thriving, beautiful 25-year-old. A decade after appearing in HIV Plus as the “AIDS poster girl,” we decided to check back in with her to see how it’s been since she was a child who wasn’t certain if she could plan for another birthday or would grow into womanhood.
Well, she’s still talking, spreading the word to others that, yes, she’s a normal person. But with an extraordinary life.
“I plan to do as much as I can!” she says, revealing all her passion for her work as well as her life. “I plan to help a lot of organizations that I was involved with when I was younger. I want people to know that I’m trying to make a difference, because I really don’t want people to deal with HIV if they don’t have to.”
Born in 1984, Broadbent was abandoned at a hospital in Las Vegas by her drug-addicted mother and was soon adopted by Patricia and Loren Broadbent. A tiny child prone to every little cold and flu that came along, she was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 3. Doctors told her family she probably wouldn’t live more than a couple of years.
In the 2002 book that her mom cowrote with her about her struggle for survival, You Can Get Past the Tears, Patricia Broadbent says of her daughter, “Certainly being a little black girl with AIDS was not all that Hydeia was, but I knew she’d encounter people who wouldn’t look any further.”
Determined to fight the intense stigma and shame of the Ryan White era, Hydeia Broadbent’s mom, a social worker by trade, launched into public speaking about pediatric AIDS. Meanwhile, through her determined efforts, she secured a place for her daughter in the National Institutes of Health’s clinical trials of pediatric treatments for HIV. Beginning in 1990, their trips to the NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Md., gave the young girl access to the up-and-coming medications that were so desperately needed in those harrowing years.
At first Broadbent just tagged along as her mother spoke publicly about her daughter’s condition. But by age 6, she started piping up herself. She gradually began to take the helm and soon became an accomplished speaker in her own right. And she doesn’t hold back when it comes to letting people know her viewpoint.
“It hurts to know that I’m 25 and people have been [speaking up about HIV prevention] for longer than I’ve been alive, but people aren’t getting the message. It saddens me. But now people think, Well, if I get HIV, I’ll need to take medication but I’ll be OK.”