Nineteen-year-old Paige Rawl is loving her first semester at Ball State University. Looking at the confident, energetic freshman, it’s hard to imagine the time earlier in her life when she was bullied and felt forlorn as a result of having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 

“She’s outgoing, smart and caring,” says Paige’s mother Sandy Rawl. Infected by her ex-husband—Paige’s father died of AIDS-related illness in 2001—Sandy unknowingly passed the virus to Paige at birth. Paige learned she was HIV positive as a fifth-grader. “I told her that she could live a normal life,” Sandy recalls.

But when word spread through her Indianapolis middle school, Paige was taunted mercilessly. Friends deserted her. When the stress affected her grades and health, Sandy home-schooled Paige during her eighth-grade year. 

At Herron High School, Paige found a supportive administration. She also found her groove again. In addition to getting involved in student government, cheerleading, soccer, the school newspaper and concert choir, she became a Red Cross HIV/AIDS educator. “I started speaking because I just didn’t want to see anyone go through what I went through,” she explains.

A combination of drugs has made Paige’s HIV undetectable, although it is still present in her body. HIV/AIDS Care at Riley follows 90 percent of Indiana’s HIV-positive children. Like former Riley patient Ryan White, who drew international acclaim for his brave battle with AIDS that ended in 1990, Paige continues to fight the stigma attached to the disease. Paige receives care at the Ryan White Infectious Disease Clinic at Riley. The clinic receives funding from the Indiana University Dance Marathon, which White’s friends began in his honor after his death. 

“The Dance Marathon program is such an amazing way to help Riley Hospital,” says Paige, who spoke at previous BSU Dance Marathons before joining the Riley Relations Committee this year. “Students say their favorite part is when the Riley kids get up and talk—that’s what keeps them going.” 

Paige’s activism has attracted some notable recognition, including being featured among five “Pretty Amazing” young women in the October 2013 issue of Seventeen magazine. Two goals drive this Champion: educating the public about HIV, and studying molecular biology to become an HIV/AIDS researcher. Her mother is confident Paige will realize her dreams: “She’s doesn’t give up.”

 

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