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August 22, 2003

A walk in their shoes


Tyler Small,center,stands with girlfriend Amanda Litzenberger,left,Aydeia Broadbend,and Trevor Madrid during a party at Round Table Pizza Aug.14.
Tyler Small has the powerful physique of a young man who regularly hits the weights, someone who played football in high school.

One would never guess the 18-year-old 2003 graduate of Pahrump Valley High School is afflicted with the AIDS virus, and has been since the day he was born in 1985.

Trevor Madrid, also 18, lives in Las Vegas but he's been calling Pahrump home for the past couple of weeks. Madrid has been living with Small as part of "Walk in Your Shoes," a television program that pairs up healthy teens with peers with AIDS or any number of equally serious maladies.

A film crew from the Nickelodeon network was at Round Table Pizza Aug. 14 night, where a party was held and funding was raised for Small and Madrid to participate in the Southern Colorado AIDS Project's marathon bicycle Escape Ride. The event is designed to educate people about AIDS and HIV, the virus that weakens immune systems and ultimately leads to AIDS, and to raise funding for research.

Small wasn't the only young adult at Round Table who has lived with the disease since birth. Aydeia Broadbend, 19, hails from Las Vegas. Like Small, she is active in AIDS projects, and often gives speeches that serve to educate the public.

Both of them were born with the disease to mothers who were infected, probably, they agree, due to illicit drug use.

Small was adopted when he was eight months old. The family moved to Pahrump to open the Sav-On store at Pahrump Valley Junction in the late 1990s.

Small thinks and speaks with firm conviction; he is candid when discussing his condition, and equally upfront when he explains how he has survived. Each statement Small utters is laced with optimism; he says he doesn't see any obstacles in his path that he won't overcome - as long as he follows a strict regimen that includes ingesting countless pills, strenuous exercise, eating a proper diet, and making sound lifestyle choices.

Small played football at Rosemary Clarke Middle School, and then suited up for the Trojans; he played cornerback and tailback. He said his coaches and teammates were aware of his condition, and supported him in every way.

Small still exercises regularly, eats healthy foods, and follows his doctors' directions regarding the array of drugs he takes to combat his condition. He thinks the lifestyle he leads helps keep him in good health.

Madrid and Small have been riding a lot of miles training for the Colorado marathon, where they plan on riding a minimum of 50 miles per day over the two-day event.

Small said a positive attitude is also crucial in his fight against the disease, and in the course of the interview he often uses testosterone-fueled expressions like, "Only the strong survive." But he clearly has a soft heart, particularly when it comes to the couple that raised him since infancy, Larry and Cindy Small.

"I was adopted by two loving parents," he said. "They knew my birth mother had AIDS, and they knew I had AIDS before they adopted me."

Not every person Small has met in his life has been so understanding. "A lot of people don't accept (my medical status)," he said. Instead of retreating from society, Small became involved in Reach Out for AIDS Kids, a group dedicated to shining a light on the disease and the research that has gone into finding a cure.

For Small, life has been one tiny victory after another. "I was supposed to die by the time I was five," he said. "I guaranteed I would be alive to see my 18th birthday."

Small said his relative longevity has taught him about the will to live; that one person can make a difference in the lives of others.

An easy example of what Small means by making a difference, the Aug. 14 party at Round Table came through the efforts of Linda Kass, the winner of the Ms. Senior Golden Years Pageant here in Pahrump on July 12. Kass said she got involved in the Nickelodeon production, at least in part, to fulfill the community platform she developed as part of the pageant.

Another example of how one person can make a difference was provided Aug. 12. Kass appeared before the Pahrump Town Board to explain the "Walk in Your Shoes" program, and to request $500 to fund Small and Madrid's participation in the Southern Colorado AIDS Project marathon later this month.

Town Board members were obviously sympathetic to the cause, based on comments they made, but Kass' request was turned down. The apparent concern, expressed by board member Charlotte LeVar, was that a bad precedent would be established, resulting in countless similar calls for assistance.

In the end, it didn't matter. Local resident and regular meeting attendee Bob Baker passed the hat and within an hour $550 dollars had been donated. The funds that are raised by the bicycle marathon will go to AIDS research, said a producer from Nickelodeon.

Kass said she was "thrilled" and "deeply moved" by the show of support, as did Small. "Everybody's been so supportive," he said. "Especially my girlfriend."

Amanda Litzenberger and Small have been dating for a while now. Small said classmates at PVHS were concerned with the relationship. His medical status was no mystery at the high school, and Small found, for the most part, a student body eager to be educated on what life is like living with, perhaps, one of the worst viruses to ever afflict humankind.

"Tons of kids would ask me about it," he said.

According to Madrid, the "Walk in Your Shoes" program is about " ... kids who make a difference in the world, and not just kids with HIV. It's shown me that people are pretty much the same."

Madrid said that while he is not infected with HIV, he was concerned about meeting - and living - with someone who is. "I was real nervous," he said. "I had no idea how (Small) got infected. I was scared. I was ignorant. But I've been learning so much. He brought me into his home with much love, and he shares what it is like ... what he has to do." The "Walk in Your Shoes" program will air sometime in November, according to a member of the production crew.

These days Small might be infected, but his doctor has informed him the disease is "undetectable" in his body. It is a term that sounds more positive than it is, but Small is confident he will remain healthy. "Only the strong survive," he says for the second time. "You have to have hope, and you have to take your pills every day."

Broadbend was diagnosed with HIV when she was three-years old. She had been adopted at six months. Now 19 and diagnosed with what she characterized as "full-blown AIDS," Broadbend is the picture of youth and vigor. "I'm doing good," she said. "I'm healthy, but I've had a lot of problems."

Like Small, Broadbend attributes her ability to stave off the ravages of AIDS by taking all of her medicines "all of the time," exercising and eating right.

Broadbend does her part to raise AIDS awareness and promote the search for a cure by talking about her condition to students at high schools and colleges, and a variety of other groups.

Small and Broadbend agree the medication programs they are involved in must be followed to the letter. It is a key, if not the key, to survival. The myriad medications Small takes to protect his immune system changes on a routine basis. Doctors at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. treat him "I get top-line medicines," he says. "I'm kind of a guinea pig, but that's all right."

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