Hydeia Broadbent, young activist for HIV/AIDS awareness, dies at 39


Hydeia Broadbent, who was born with HIV and spent nearly her entire life — ever since she was a young girl — as an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, died Feb. 20 at a neurological rehabilitation center in Las Vegas. She was 39.

Ms. Broadbent, whose biological mother suffered from drug addiction and was eventually found to have HIV, was 3 1/2 when she also tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. She was 5 when she developed acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, the disease caused by the virus.

Under the care of her adoptive parents, Loren and Pat Broadbent, Ms. Broadbent was among the first pediatric patients to receive AZT and other antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. She overcame near-constant health struggles to outlive her initial life expectancy by more than three decades.

Loren Broadbent confirmed his daughter’s death and said he did not yet know the cause. He said she suffered a heart attack and possible stroke in September and had been hospitalized or in rehabilitation since then.

Ms. Broadbent rose to national attention in 1992 when she appeared on Nickelodeon, the children’s television channel, with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the basketball star who had recently announced that he was positive for HIV.

Magic Johnson looks back on HIV announcement 20 years later

At the time, an HIV diagnosis carried crippling stigma because the virus, which is transmitted through blood, semen and other body fluids but not through casual contact, was often associated with gay men and users of intravenous drugs.

Ryan White, a prominent young HIV/AIDS activist who preceded Ms. Broadbent on the national stage, had to fight for the right to attend public schools in Indiana before his death at 18 in 1990. He had hemophilia and contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.

“I want people to know that we’re just normal people,” Ms. Broadbent, then 7 years old, told the Nickelodeon audience through tears as Johnson attempted to console her.

Johnson later said Ms. Broadbent had helped inspire him to devote himself to HIV/AIDS causes. For Ms. Broadbent, their television appearance together was a “bridge to a higher profile and more confidence,” she told the New York Times in 2006.

She became a frequent speaker at schools, churches and HIV/AIDS events and on television. When she was 11, she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, describing the reality of her disease.

Despite the drug regimens that had greatly extended and improved her life, she suffered from conditions including a fungus in her brain, blood infections, pneumonia and other medical emergencies that at times left her near death. The worst part of her disease, she said, was “when your friends die.”

But Ms. Broadbent also delivered a message of hope and resilience. “I am the next doctor. I am the next lawyer. I am the next Maya Angelou. I might even be the first woman president. I am the future, and I have AIDS,” she declared when she was featured at the 1996 Republican presidential nominating convention.

As she grew older, Ms. Broadbent spoke frankly to young people about ways of stopping the spread of HIV. She encouraged abstinence and, for those who are sexually active, condom use and other safe-sex practices. As an African American, she spoke in particular about the impact of the disease on the Black community.

“I have dedicated my whole life to this fight,” Ms. Broadbent told CNN in 2012. “I don’t hate my life. I feel like I’m really blessed. But at the same time, my life doesn’t have to be their life. I didn’t have a choice when it came to HIV/AIDS, and people do have a choice.”

Ms. Broadbent was born June 14, 1984, in Las Vegas and was placed at the age of 6 weeks with her future adoptive parents, who named her Hydeia. She took the middle name Loren, after her adoptive father, when her adoption became official.

News accounts of Ms. Broadbent’s life frequently described her as being abandoned at birth by her biological mother. Kimberley McCoy, a half sister who is 14 years older than Ms. Broadbent, said in an interview that their mother wished to keep Hydeia but was denied custody because of her drug addiction.

When Ms. Broadbent’s biological mother gave birth to another baby and both she and the infant were found to be HIV positive, health officials contacted the Broadbents and asked that Hydeia be tested. She, too, was found to have the virus.

Ms. Broadbent’s adoptive father, formerly a drug and alcohol counselor, ran a nonprofit organization that weatherized homes. Her adoptive mother, who had worked in social services, traveled frequently with Hydeia from their home in Las Vegas to the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, where she received medical treatment.

Her parents, who adopted a total of three children, including a second child who was HIV positive, eventually divorced.

When Ms. Broadbent was in kindergarten, a teacher who knew of her HIV status sprayed her with Clorox when she sneezed, Loren Broadbent said. That incident, combined with Hydeia’s frequent health setbacks, prompted the Broadbents to school her at home with the assistance of tutors until she entered junior high.

In the course of her medical treatment, Ms. Broadbent encountered Elizabeth Glaser, the wife of “Starsky & Hutch” actor Paul Michael Glaser. Elizabeth Glaser had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during childbirth in 1981. Her daughter and later a son both contracted the disease.

After her daughter’s death in 1988, Elizabeth Glaser helped start what became the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Enchanted by Hydeia — who, at age 5, liked to pretend that she was April O’Neil, the news reporter from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” — she arranged for some of her first public appearances before she was featured with Johnson on Nickelodeon.

“Hydeia changed the world with her bravery, speaking about how living with HIV affected her life since birth,” Johnson posted on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, after Ms. Broadbent’s death.

He added, “By speaking out at such a young age, she helped so many people, young and old, because she wasn’t afraid to share her story and allowed everyone to see that those living with HIV and AIDS were everyday people and should be treated with respect.”

At times, Ms. Broadbent said, she felt overwhelming “pressure to be perfect.” She described descending into depression. But people who knew her said that she also derived deep meaning and fulfillment from her work and from her success in helping improve the lives of people with HIV and AIDS.

Anthony S. Fauci, a preeminent AIDS researcher who later led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, knew Ms. Broadbent from her early days receiving treatment at NIH and said in an interview that her “accomplishments are substantial.”

“To have a young girl who was born with HIV” saying “we are normal, we are real people,” he reflected, “I think that does so much to dispel stigma.”

Survivors include her adoptive parents, both of Las Vegas, and numerous siblings from her adoptive and biological families. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available. Her biological father, Ronald Dishmon, died in 1992, and her biological mother, Beverly Page, died in 1993.

“No one really knows how long anybody’s going to live,” Ms. Broadbent told Oprah when she was 11. “I don’t … tell myself, ‘Oh, you have AIDS,’ or ‘I could go outside and get hit by a bus tomorrow.’”

“If you stay in your bed and feel sorry for yourself, and don’t get up with the birds and just sit there and say ‘I’m going to die,’ why get up and try to make a difference?” she continued. “But when you say, ‘Today’s another day,’ I can get up, I can do something, make something positive.”


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