Ryan Lewis Celebrates HIV+ Mom’s 30 Year Survival

It’s been a big year for Ryan Lewis and his partner Macklemore. In January, the pair was nominated for seven Grammy awards, and won four awards including Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (The Heist), Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance (“Thrift Shop”).

But for music producer and film director Lewis, this year highlights a more personal victory. 2014 marks the 30 years since his mother, Julie Lewis, contracted and still lives with HIV. Lewis is coming forward with this information as a way to celebrate a big project that he is supporting to honor his mother. Called the 30/30 project, the Lewis family, along with Macklemore, and Construction for Change hope to raise enough money to bring healthcare to areas that need it most. Their motto is:

“We believe healthcare is a human right.”

Julie Lewis contracted HIV in 1984,through a blood transfusion she needed because of complication of her first pregnancy with Ryan’s sister, Teresa. Routine blood testing for HIV was not yet done at this time. She was asymptomatic for six years and gave birth to two more children, Laura and Ryan. (Although they had a 25% chance of having HIV transmitted to them from their mother, they fortunately were HIV negative). At the time of her diagnosis, at the age of 32, she was told that she probably wouldn’t live more than a couple of years. However, through the support of her family,  medical personnel and medications she has received, Julie has has not only lived, she’s thrived.

Here’s more about the 30/30 project:

What are HIV and AIDS?

(source: AIDS.gov)

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. The destruction of these cells leaves people infected with HIV vulnerable to other infections, diseases and other complications.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when he or she has one or more opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and has a dangerously low number of CD4+ T cells (less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood). Opportunistic infections are infections from organisms (bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoan) that normally do not cause disease in healthy people.

How is HIV treated?

In 1987, a drug called AZT became the first approved treatment for HIV disease. Since then, approximately 30 drugs have been approved to treat people living with HIV/AIDS, and more are under development.

There are currently five different “classes” of HIV drugs. Each class of drug attacks the virus at different points in its life cycle—so if you are taking HIV meds, you will generally take 3 different antiretroviral drugs from 2 different classes.

This regimen is standard for HIV care—and it’s important. That’s because no drug can cure HIV, and taking a single drug, by itself, won’t stop HIV from harming you. Taking 3 different HIV meds does the best job of controlling the amount of virus in your body and protecting your immune system.

Taking more than one drug also protects you against HIV drug resistance. When HIV reproduces, it can make copies of itself that are imperfect—and these mutations may not respond to the drugs you take to control your HIV. If you follow the 3-drug regimen, the HIV in your body will be less likely to make new copies that don’t respond to your HIV meds.

Antiretrovirals are separated into different classes by the way an individual drug stops HIV from replicating in your body. The classes include:

hiv treatments

Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs): Sometimes called “nukes.” These drugs work to block a very important step in HIV’s reproduction process. Nukes act as faulty building blocks in production of viral DNA production. This blocks HIV’s ability to use a special type of enzyme (reverse transcriptase) to correctly build new genetic material (DNA) that the virus needs to make copies of itself. (#2 above)

Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs): These are called “non-nukes.” They work in a very similar way to “nukes.” Non-nukes also block the enzyme, reverse transcriptase, and prevent HIV from making copies of its own DNA. But unlike the nukes (which work on the genetic material ), non-nukes act directly on the enzyme itself to prevent it from functioning correctly. (#2 above)

Protease Inhibitors (PIs): When HIV replicates inside your cells, it creates long strands of its own genetic material. These long strands have to be cut into shorter strands in order for HIV to create more copies of itself. The enzyme that acts to cut up these long strands is called protease. Protease inhibitors (stoppers) block this enzyme and prevent those long strands of genetic material from being cut up into functional pieces. (#4 above)

Entry/Fusion Inhibitors: These medications work to block the virus from ever entering your cells in the first place. HIV needs a way to attach and bond to your CD4 cells, and it does that through special structures on cells called receptor sites. Receptor sites are found on both HIV and CD4 cells (they are found on other types of cells too). Fusion inhibitors can target those sites on either HIV or CD4 cells and prevent HIV from “docking” into your healthy cells. (#1 above)

Integrase Inhibitors: HIV uses your cells’ genetic material to make its own DNA (a process called reverse transcription). Once that happens, the virus has to integrate its genetic material into the genetic material of your cells. This is accomplished by an enzyme called integrase. Integrase inhibitors block this enzyme and prevent the virus from adding its DNA into the DNA in your CD4 cells. Preventing this process prevents the virus from replicating and making new viruses.(#3 above)

Fixed-dose combinations: These are not a separate class of HIV medications but combinations of the above classes and a great advancement in HIV medicine. They include antiretrovirals which are combinations of 2 or more medications from one or more different classes. These antiretrovirals are combined into one single pill with specific fixed doses of these medicines.

The Global HIV/AIDS Crisis Today


HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has become one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges:

  • 33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS.
  • More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were reported in 1981.
  • In 2008, 2 million people died due to HIV/AIDS, and another 2.7 million were newly infected.
  • While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • global-statistics-2According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people living with HIV or at risk for HIV do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment, and there is still no cure.
  • The HIV epidemic not only affects the health of individuals, it impacts households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and other serious problems.
  • global-statistics-3Despite these challenges, there have been successes and promising signs. New global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, particularly in the last decade. Prevention has helped to reduce HIV prevalence rates in a small but growing number of countries and new HIV infections are believed to be on the decline. In addition, the number of people with HIV receiving treatment in resource poor countries has increased 10-fold since 2002, reaching an estimated 4 million by 2008.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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