Dr. Hannah Gay, the University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatrician whose treatment "functionally cured" a baby girl born with an HIV infection, is a Christian who previously spent years living as a missionary with her husband in Ethiopia.
In the 1980s, Gay worked with her husband as a missionary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and these days she's cultivating the faith of third and fourth graders through the teaching of Bible passages at her church on Wednesday nights, according to the Washington Post.
The very private Gay, who has four children and a grandson, is a devout Christian who puts her faith first and juggles her family and career in between. "She does not like being in the spotlight," her 24-year-old daughter Ruth Gay Thomas told the Washington Post.
But whether she wanted it or not, Dr. Gay, 58, was forced into the limelight after a report announced by the University of Mississippi Medical Center on Sunday credited Gay and other doctors with treating and tracking the progress of the baby girl who experienced remission of her HIV infection after receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) within 30 hours of her birth. The other doctors who worked on the case are Johns Hopkins Children's Center virologist Dr. Debra Persaud and University of Massachusetts Medical School immunologist Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga. The doctors agree that it was the early administration of antiviral treatment that likely resulted in a "functional cure" for the baby girl by stopping the formation of hard-to-treat viral reservoirs, which are dormant cells responsible for reigniting the infection in most HIV patients within weeks of stopping therapy.
The Christian Post reached out to Dr. Gay at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for comment for this report on Wednesday, but she was away at a conference.
Jack Mazurak, assistant director for media relations at the Medical Center, who said he has come to know Dr. Gay very well through work, said she is, "a wonderful person" who was able to leverage her experience and knowledge to make life better for the baby. "I am guessing that her faith informed the way she has lived her life," he added.
In an earlier interview with CNN, she talked about her reaction to the discovery, highlighting that the baby's "functional cure" was unexpected. "I was very much surprised. Almost had a panic because my first though was, 'Oh my goodness, I've been treating a child who is not actually infected'," Gay told CNN.
After several more rounds of repeated tests with the help of her colleagues, however, they were unable to "recover any replication competent virus" and declared the baby "functionally cured" because they are still uncertain of her future health status.
"We don't know yet exactly what we found and it will take a long time of studying seeing if we can replicate this outcome in other babies before we can say, 'yes we've got a definite cure.' Until that point, all children, and adults for that matter, who are on good therapy and are controlling their therapy need to stay on that therapy," she said.
In the meantime, everyone remains happy and hopeful. "We are very excited about this baby in particular and hopeful that it will be a breakthrough that we can replicate and make other babies well as well," said Gay.