In January, 1999, a Missouri jury found Brian Stewart guilty of first-degree assault and sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Stewart, a phlebotomist, had been found guilty of deliberately injecting his son, who was 11-months old at the commission of the crime, with HIV infected blood. His son, Brryan Jackson, had been hospitalized for pneumonia and asthma at a hospital where his father was employed in February, 1992.
Jackson had impregnated his then girlfriend only five months into their relationship and had pressed the woman to obtain an abortion, which she refused. After his son’s birth Stewart disputed paternity and after the DNA tests confirmed he was the father, and after he had been ordered by the Court to pay $268 a month in child support, Stewart made comments to several people that the child, “was not going to live that long.”
It was that statement that eventually led to Brryan’s diagnosis and for suspicion being cast on Stewart. After his release from the hospital Brryan Jackson continued to suffer unexplained health problems. Previously, Brryan had been a happy, playful child but afterwards he became listless and began losing weight and running fevers. Brryan’s doctor, Linda Steele-Greene, had noticed Brryan’s condition had worsened after a visit from his father and thought that the baby’s symptoms were like those of a person who had, “a bad reaction to an infusion of incompatible blood,” but dismissed this thought because the child had received no blood transfusion through the hospital.
Still Brryan became worse. It was not until Brryan was five years old and near death when Dr. Steele-Greene remembered Brryan’s family telling her about Brian Stewart’s remarks about Brryan not living long and decided to test the child for HIV. The test came back that Brryan had full blown AIDS.
Brian Stewart argued at his trial that the evidence was purely circumstantial and that Brryan had been exposed to intravenous drug users and two convicted sex offenders but these people were all tested and found not to be carriers of the HIV virus.
In a 2002 interview Brryan’s mother described Brryan’s daily life as an 11-year-old. He had to receive a cocktail of AIDS drugs through a stomach tube nine times a day. Previous medication had damaged his hearing, leaving him partially deaf and with a speech impediment. He had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder caused by lesions on his brain. Brryan reported being tired all the time and even with mid-day naps he had a day off from school after every ten just to rest and regain some strength. Brryan felt like he had only one friend and the stress his disease placed on his entire family was considerable.
“This year,” his mother reported, “he’s been sick quite a bit. It’s really been touch and go.”
Today Brryan Jackson is something of a miracle. He blossomed in eighth grade, adding an extra “r” to his original name of Bryan to further distance himself from his biological father.
At one point Brryan took 23 pills, two different shots and three antibiotics through his stomach tube each and every day. By high school he was down to five pills twice a day and three pills once a day. He has testified before Congress in support of enhanced funding for HIV research and spoke before school and church groups about safe sex, abstinence and getting tested for HIV. He joined the cheerleading squad at his high school. On his 18th birthday Brryan Jackson celebrated by starting his own nonprofit organization, Hope is Vital.
Bryyan Jackson, who doctors believed would never live to see the age of six, graduated from high school in 2009. In high school he believed dating was impossible but his friends would tell him, “Brryan, there is someone out there for you, be patient,” and at his senior prom he met the girl who is now his girlfriend, Brandi Wyatt. “I got to know the person behind the story,” she said. Brryan is down to having to take only three pills a day and visits his doctor once every three months. The viral load in his blood has been undetectable for two years now.
“My doctors are amazed.” Brryan Jackson was quoted as saying, “Nobody knows when they are going to die. I do what I do and live life to the fullest. You can’t survive without having hope.”
Brian Stewart is currently serving his sentence at the Potosi Correctional Facility in Missouri. He will be eligible for parole in April of this year.