(NEW YORK) -- Musician Ryan Lewis is spearheading a fundraising effort to build medical centers around the world to provide comprehensive health care and specialized HIV/AIDS treatment for the needy, and it’s all because of one case that hits very close to home. Lewis, who is one half of the hit rap duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, says his mother, Julie Lewis, has been HIV positive since she gave birth to her first child 30 years ago.
After giving birth to her daughter, Teresa, in 1984, Julie Lewis needed a blood transfusion. “In that moment without anyone knowing it, [she] had HIV positive blood put into her body,” Ryan Lewis said. “At age 25, one year younger than I am right now, her life would change forever.”
She had two other children -- Laura and Ryan -- before being diagnosed as HIV positive in the summer of 1990.
“I was 32 years old, and I had three young children, ages 6, 4, and 2. I’d never thought about dying,” an emotional Julie Lewis said, speaking in a YouTube video about the initiative.
Each of her younger children had a 25 percent chance of being born with HIV, but they were both born free of the virus.
Julie Lewis herself was given only a few years to live.
“But you know what’s amazing? My mom never died. She lived,” her son said.
Julie Lewis founded the 30/30 Project to allow people all over the world access to the same high-quality healthcare that she received. The project is raising funds on the website IndieGoGo. As of Tuesday night, the campaign had collected $19,238 of a stated goal of $100,000.
“Life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS can be managed,” Julie Lewis said. “What people need is access…I was infected with HIV 30 years ago. And I never thought I’d be sitting here, 30 years later, talking to you.”
The announcement is timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the scientific discovery that AIDS is caused by HIV.
Macklemore voiced his support for the project. “Healthcare is a human right. That is what we believe. We want to see this idea put into action,” he said.
An estimated 34 million people globally have been diagnosed with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. Since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, the infection has claimed more than 33 million lives, according to CDC estimates.
More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with the infection but nearly one in six is unaware they are infected.
When AIDS was a relatively new disease, patients could expect to develop full blown AIDS within 10 years and live only a year or two longer. Now, with better HIV treatments, patients who start them before their immune system declines significantly have a much longer life expectancy.
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