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Spotlight on Doctor Who Treated Baby With HIV

The Mississippi doctor who treated a baby girl born with the AIDS virus and apparently cured her of the infection is a former missionary who lived for several years in Ethiopia and a no-nonsense mother of four who dislikes the limelight, according to her family, colleagues and former pastor.

But Hannah Berry Gay, 58, a pediatrician at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, is now the focus of intense international interest. By aggressively treating the newborn with antiretroviral drugs, she achieved what researchers described as a “functional cure.”

A report on the case, which also included researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was officially presented Monday at a conference in Atlanta. If confirmed, the results would offer hope for hundreds of thousands of babies born with HIV infection around the world each year.

Gay, a Jackson native, has spent nearly two decades at the medical center working on pediatric HIV cases. For years, she has advocated for aggressive early treatment of infants and children.

“She is very diligent and wants to make sure the babies born to HIV-infected mothers get the best care possible,” said her boss, April Palmer, chief of the medical center’s pediatric infectious disease division. “She’s fairly soft-spoken but very intense when it comes to taking care of her patients.”

In the case of the baby girl, who has not been identified, the baby’s mother arrived at the hospital without having had any prenatal care. When a screening test for HIV came back positive, “she was too near delivery to give even the dose of medicine that we routinely use during labor,” Gay wrote in a short narrative of the events.

Because of the baby’s unusually high risk of having been infected, Gay and her colleagues started full treatment with a combination of drugs known as “triple therapy” 30 hours after birth, she said.