By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Dr. Hannah Gay, who was credited with the first functional cure of HIV, encouraged students at the University of Mississippi to “do the hard things.”
Gay, a pediatrician at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, spoke Wednesday at the Spring Convocation of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss. In 2010, she administered a three-drug treatment to a baby girl born with HIV, and last year researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Johns Hopkins University concluded the child had no reproducible trace of the virus that used to be a death sentence.
“This is a moving story for me,” said Chancellor Dan Jones. “I have not introduced a better example of a life well lived than our speaker.”
Gay, a lifelong Mississippian except six years as a missionary in Africa, offered several lessons learned from having fame forced upon her after the child’s remission was made public a year ago.
“It’s very, very good to know the limitation of your knowledge. When I saw this baby and didn’t know what was going on, I knew immediately whom to call,” she said.
Gay said her international exposure has shown that Mississippi has its advantages. When the mother of the HIV-positive child dropped out of the medical regimen, the “everybody knows everybody” nature of her Delta hometown helped get the child back to the clinic.
“Because we know each other in Mississippi and because we care about each other, that kind of thing can happen here,” Gay said.
She noted that medical leaders even in AIDS-ravaged Africa say the Mississippi case has “renewed hope in our researchers, our clinicians and our patients.”
Gay said even dealing with unwelcome fame has been a learning experience. “I’ve learned that it’s worthwhile to do the hard things that come across your path,” she said. “The hard thing wasn’t treating the baby. … The hard part is giving speeches and traveling all over the world.”
Gay commended to the audience a favorite scripture, Colossians 3:23.
“Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for man,” she said. “Then you will end up being a success whether you gain the fame or the fortune or not.”