Back in 1991 Brian and Jennifer met on a military base in Missouri, where they were both part of a team of paramedics. They got along well and ended up dating. Soon, they moved in together and within a few months Jennifer was pregnant. They named their son Bryan.
But their relationship wasn’t destined to last long: Brian went to the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm (when Iraq invaded Kuwait) and when he came back, everything had changed.
He suspected Jennifer of betraying him and began to be physically and verbally abusive towards her. He had completely lost interest in Bryan. He hadn’t seen combat so it didn’t seem like a case of PTSD.
Eventually she left taking the baby with her, but even then the fighting continued. Brian refused to pay child support and threatened her and the child: “He used to say things like, ‘Your child’s not going to live beyond the age of five,’ and even worse ‘When I leave you I’m not going to leave any ties behind.'”
Before Bryan was even a year old, his father had pretty much dropped out of the picture. But then one day the baby suffered from a severe asthma attack and Jennifer felt she should call Brian to let him know his son was in the hospital.
Though his new colleagues at the medical laboratory he now worked at didn’t even know he had a child, he apparently got her message. He actually showed up at the hospital the day Bryan was supposed to go home.
Early in the visit he asked Jennifer if she could pick up drinks from the cafeteria and it never have occurred to Jennifer what a mistake it was to leave her little boy alone with his father. It couldn’t have occurred to her: what Brian did next was almost unspeakably heinous.
It turns out that at the lab where he was a blood tester Brian had access to HIV-infected blood. (Don’t scream out loud when you read this.) While he was alone with his son, he took out a syringe full of infected blood he’d stolen from the lab and jabbed it into the helpless baby.
It appears that stealth murder was his solution to child care payments he didn’t want to pay.
Can we just say: is it possible to be more cold-hearted or sadistic?
It was later reported that he’d even joked with colleagues, saying, “If I wanted to infect someone with one of these viruses they’d never even know what hit them.” (It’s really too bad one of them didn’t report him already then.)
Jennifer came back from the lunch room, with beverages and without any suspicion of what Brian had done except that her child was screaming on his father’s lap. Not only had he been poked with a needle, but his body was in the middle of rejecting the foreign blood.
Within moments, the monitor showed his vital signs slowing. Hospital staff didn’t know what to make of it, of course, and struggled to stabilize the baby’s condition.
The virus, however, was on a roll. From that day on, Bryan suffered from never-ending symptoms. His health was obviously deteriorating but as Jennifer took him from doctor to doctor, no one stumbled on the right diagnosis. It simply didn’t occur to any of them to test a baby for HIV.
Until four years into this nightmare, when a battery of blood tests was done and there the doctor saw it: Bryan had full-blown AIDS. The connection was made to his father’s access to infected blood and soon Brian was in prison for attempted murder.
Meanwhile, his doctors didn’t think the baby had long to live. But by this time, early medications to keep the virus in check were beginning to be available and the doctors wanted to try to save Bryan at any cost. Soon he was taking 20 medications a day and getting regular injections. Jennifer was overwhelmed by shock and stress.
Amazingly though, the little boy didn’t die. In fact to his doctors’ (and mom’s) delight and astonishment, he began to get stronger. He was able to go to school, although the school didn’t want him and his friends’ parents tried to avoid contact, never inviting Bryan to birthday parties or other events. In the 90s people still had a lot of false ideas about how contagious AIDS was.
So he suffered not just from the life-threatening disease but also from bullying and exclusion — for years. It was extremely tough.
When he was about ten, Bryan began to grasp for the first time the gravity of what his own father had done to him.
“At first I was very angry and bitter,” he later explained. “I grew up watching movies where fathers cheer on their sons from the sidelines. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how my own father could do that to me. He didn’t just try to kill me, he changed my life forever. He was responsible for the bullying, he was responsible for all the years in hospital. He’s the reason I have to be so conscious about my health and what I do.”
Eventually though, through his religious faith, he found a path to accepting the situation and even forgiving this person who harmed him so profoundly. His health also continuously improved.
He changed his name too, adding an “r” to his first name and adopting his mother’s last name, Jackson. Two important steps to claiming his own identity — and his independence from the person who tried to kill him.
Now Brryan is a handsome, brawny 24-year-old.
He recently testified against Brian at parole hearings, understanding that the general public should be protected from someone that dangerous. It was an intense, scary experience to be in the same room with the criminal. But an extraordinary chance for another step away from the crime that marked him for life and towards freedom.
“There have been times I’ve woken up from nightmares, scared he might come back to finish the job. I may have forgiven him, but even in forgiveness I believe you have to pay the consequences.”
The parole board denied Brian’s appeal so he’s in prison for another five years at least.
Brryan meanwhile is an accomplished young man that any father would be extremely proud of. He’s involved with children suffering from HIV through the charity he founded, Hope is Vital, and works as a motivational speaker. And he’s the healthiest he’s ever been: “I’ve gone from taking 23 pills a day to taking one. I don’t know what I’ve been doing but now my HIV status is ‘undetectable.'”
Take a look at this moving video report on this incredible story:
It’s hard to fathom what this young man has been through — just to stay alive, not to mention to grasp why it all happened to him and come to some kind of acceptance. But his statistics-defying health and his powerfully positive attitude towards life should inspire all of us.
One of his deepest desires? To become a father himself. No doubt it will happen too, and he’ll be an outstanding dad.