Robbie Grimes has been around only half as long as AIDS - the disease he was born with, that left him disabled and shaped his life.
When the 5-year-old leaves the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro today, he will become one of the state's few children with acquired immune deficiency syndrome that a family knowingly adopted.The formality in court ends Liz and Jac Grimes' two-year struggle to adopt him. But their challenges continue.
``Obviously, it's still going to be an uphill battle from here,' Jac Grimes said. ``But it's nice that we'll be able to set some precedent for the state, to show that it's doable.' Their status as adoptive rather than foster parents will allow them to make final decisions on Robbie's education and medical treatment.
``It's a milestone for us,' Liz Grimes said. ``With Robbie, there are rituals we did not get to go through and that we may not to get to share, such as marriages and christenings. This is going to be one ritual that we have for him.'
Robbie got the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus from his 19-year-old mother at birth, as do about three-fourths of all children with AIDS. His mother left him in the custody of Forsyth County social workers when he was 5 weeks old, after authorities found them sleeping in a truck.
Most babies infected with AIDS at birth have drug-using parents, and Robbie was no exception. His father died while Robbie was living at Amos Cottage, the pediatric division of N.C. Baptist Hospital. Robbie's mother died of AIDS last August.
The HIV virus affected development of Robbie's brain, leaving him with cerebral palsy, mental retardation and vision problems. He spent the first half of his life in a hospital until Liz and Jac Grimes heard his story. They felt it wasn't fair for a child to have a shortened life without a family, Jac Grimes said.
When Robbie first came to the Grimeses' home on the Jamestown edge of High Point, he was almost 2 but seldom stood and spoke only a few words. He was still eating baby food. Now, he uses full sentences and can walk 15 or more steps without crutches. He's still a demanding child.
``What are you doing?' Robbie looks up from his play and queries his mother.
If she gives him a logical explanation, he accepts it and moves on.
If not, she faces temper tantrums.
``He knows he's different; he knows something is wrong and that he can't do what he sees other kids doing,' Liz Grimes said. ``There are days he drains me physically and emotionally.'
As Robbie learns and grows, his parents face new challenges. For example, carrying a 50-pound child and changing his diapers in public. But their ultimate obstacle is dealing with the progression of his illness, Jac Grimes said.
When the Grimeses added Robbie to their clan of four adopted or foster children, doctors told them his life expectancy was 2 to 5 years. Now, they say children born with HIV have an average life span of 7 to 10 years.
``With the way therapies are going, if they add another three to four years to that life expectancy in the next couple of years, we're going to be facing puberty,' Liz Grimes said.
Last month, doctors reduced Robbie's dosage of AZT, a medicine that slows the disease, because he had become so irritable. Otherwise, he thrives. He goes for monthly checkups at Duke Medical Center and for routine medical care at the Guilford County Health Department twice a month.
Despite constant challenges, the Grimeses say they don't regret their choices to adopt Robbie nor to be open about his disease.
``We haven't closeted him away somewhere,' Liz Grimes said.
Their oldest daughter, 15-year-old Julie, whose adoption also becomes final today, wrote an article for her school newspaper to educate students about AIDS. Another daughter, 7-year-old Amanda, was able to answer all the questions during an elementary-school classroom discussion about AIDS and drug use.
This week marks a decade since the Centers for Disease Control first identified symptoms of AIDS among homosexual men. Americans were familiar with the fatal disease by the time Robbie was born May 24, 1986.