HIV treatments giving patients hope

January 16, 2012 9:11:04 AM PST
Since the first cases of AIDS were reported back in 1981, more than 600,000 Americans have died. But thanks to advances in treatment, the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S are living longer than ever before.

Sloppy Joe night at the Twietmeyers' is always a hit! Especially when you have 13 mouths to feed. With seven kids of their own, the Twietmeyers opened their home to six more from Ethiopia -- two with HIV.

"The truth of it is that these children can be adopted and live long, healthy lives and you're not going to catch it by loving them," Carolyn Twietmeyer, a mother who adopted two children with HIV, said.

"Don't be scared. These kids need families," said father Kiel Twietmeyer.

Nine out of 10 children with HIV are infected by their mother -- like Selah. When the Twietmeyer's went to Africa to adopt her, she was near death --11 years old and just 32 lbs. in stage four AIDS.

"I was really skinny and I was really sick," Selah Twietmeyer said.

But now she's thriving. Today, with twice daily medication, Selah's viral load is undetectable.

"HIV is nothing. It's nothing to be scared of," Selah said.

Thirty years ago someone diagnosed with AIDS had about a year to live, but thanks to improvements in antiretroviral therapy, doctors now classify AIDS as a chronic illness much like diabetes, which can be controlled with medication. Studies show the life expectancy of a person newly diagnosed with HIV has jumped from seven years to 24. Still there is no cure. But scientists are exploring two new possibilities: gene therapy to make cells resistant to HIV and therapeutic vaccines to control it.

Giving children like Selah a chance at a normal life.

"I never knew my life would be like this," Selah said.

While the outlook for those with HIV is getting better, an estimated 56,000 Americans will become infected this year. One in five don't know they have the virus.