Baby Born with HIV Returned to Minn. Family After 51 Days
51 days after a newborn baby was taken away by Mower County officials, he was back in his parents' arms Friday.
But for how long?
Rico Martinez Nagel was born with HIV.
He was removed from his Brownsdale home, southwest of Rochester, because doctors feared his mother and father wanted to discontinue his HIV medications.
It's a story that played out once before for this family--nearly two decades ago.
"We're just happy to have him home," said 22-year-old Lindsey Nagel, as she held Rico in her arms. Rico was calm and quiet; he didn't even fuss while liquid HIV medications pumped into his tiny body.
The last time Rico was at home, in December, Lindsey's mother Cheryl videotaped Lindsey's emotional reaction as law enforcers told her, "We have a court order saying the child, for now, is going to be placed into protective custody." As Lindsey cried, an officer told her, "I know it's hard."
Cheryl responded loudly, "It's not hard. It's stupid!"
"I was just shocked," Lindsey said Friday. "I didn't know people could just come in and take your baby and not really have a reason to do it."
Yet court documents indicate Rico was in need of protection because he was being "medically neglected" and in "a dangerous environment."
"Because they think that we're not going to keep him on the medications," Lindsey said.
To understand where the court's concern originates, you have to go back in time--to 1994--a time when Lindsey's parents, Cheryl and her husband Steve, were dealing with a similar situation. They had recently adopted Lindsey from Romania and discovered she too had HIV, most likely acquired through a blood transfusion after her birth in 1990. The medications doctors put her on at the time were making her extraordinarily sick. According to the Nagels, her quality of life was miserable. So they made a controversial decision to discontinue the medications.
In an interview with 5EYEWITNESS News in 1994, Steve Nagel said, "We had come to the decision that we would rather that she have three good months than six bad months."
But surprisingly, at least to some, Lindsey's health improved when she stopped the meds. And today, obviously, she is very much alive.
"Perfectly healthy," she claims. "I have to ask myself, 'why would you give him (Rico) the medications if you yourself have lived with it for so long and they (the HIV meds) were making you sick from the beginning'."
Lindsey and her fiance, Rico's dad John Martinez, knew their baby would have HIV. They knew when doctors found out they would question Lindsey's decision to remain off meds herself.
"At the same time," Martinez said, "we know we're not doctors. We wouldn't just stop giving him (Rico) the drugs. We're not willing to risk that. But we went in search of somebody who would say Rico doesn't need to be these drugs."
As a result they missed at least one mandated doctor's appointment. That led to the court order to take Rico into protective custody, to monitor his health. Since tests now show that the medications are decreasing the levels of HIV in his blood, health officials agreed to return the baby to John and Lindsey.
But the couple must now be monitored closely by health officials. "We Skype in two times a day with them," Lindsey said. "They want to watch us give him his meds."
Steve Nagel calls those meds "the same drugs that nearly killed Lindsey." For him and Cheryl, Rico's case is a bit of déjà vu.
"Doctors said you can't run away from these treatments," Steve said, explaining what they were told in the mid 1990s, "because that will hasten her decline, her death. That was 20 years ago." The Nagels fought off attempts to take Lindsey away as well.
"Since then she's been a swimmer and a dancer and done everything every other kid has done," said Cheryl Nagel.
"There are two groups that exist in the world of HIV," Steve said. "The ones that are dead, and the ones that claim they've been saved by the treatments. So which group does Lindsey fit into?"
The Nagles are strong believers that HIV medications do more harm than good, and that contributing health factors lead to AIDS, not simply HIV." They've appeared in a 2009 documentary that explores the subject, called "House of Numbers."
"The drugs are deadly," Cheryl insisted. "Eventually I think Rico will have some side effects manifest because he's taking the meds."
Still, despite Lindsey's good health, court documents indicate her "current diagnoses is suggesting that her HIV has progressed to AIDS."
The family will be back in court in April. At that time a judge will decide whether or not to discontinue the health department's supervision of John and Lindsey's parenting.
But for now, Rico is home. And his parents, and his grandparents, are celebrating.
"Yeah," said Steve Nagel. "It's been a very good day."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org