National Adoption Month

Born With HIV, This Girl Was Expected To Only Live A Month — Until Her Adoptive Parents Saved Her Life

“The way I see it, I don't look to my HIV as being a burden because, without it ... I wouldn't have this amazing family."

November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, we will be bringing attention to the thousands of people in foster care awaiting forever homes, as well as those who provide and advocate for them. These stories emphasize the idea that families are bound together by the love they share, rather than their biological roots.  

It took more than 200 phone calls to prospective adoptive families before Ashley Rose Murphy, now 19, found hers.

Born with HIV, Murphy lived with her birth parents for the first two weeks of her life before she became sick and was transferred to foster care. While staying with her foster caretaker, she went into cardiac arrest and was medically induced into a three and a half month coma. When the infant woke up from the coma, Children's Aid Society, an organization in Ontario, Canada providing "safe and nurturing care for children and youth" called more than 200 families, looking for just one that would take a child with HIV into their home. 

"A lot of people, when they look to adopt a child, they don't really want a kid who's sick or with mental or physical disabilities just because they know it's gonna be harder. It's gonna be more work," Ashley Rose Murphy told A Plus. 

Her parents, Kari and Don Murphy, however, were on a special list of families who accepted children with illnesses and/or disabilities. The couple not only had a biological son who was wheelchair-bound, but they were also taking care of other foster siblings with physical disabilities. "That's why, ultimately, they called my parents," she explained. "And they obviously said, 'Yes' because they're amazing people."

Murphy at four months old in a coma
Murphy at four months old in a coma Courtesy of Kari Murphy 
Ashley Rose Murphy and "the doctor who saved her," Dr. Stan Read. 
Ashley Rose Murphy and "the doctor who saved her," Dr. Stan Read.  Courtesy of Kari Murphy 

Today, Murphy credits her parents with saving her life. "I always say, my birth mom was the one who gave life to me, but my mom — she's the one who saved my life," Murphy said. "My parents, now, they saved my life not only as a baby, but they have just always been there for me." 

Though the doctors told them she might only live a month, "they knew that deep down inside" that she'd survive. "My mom is a very spiritual person, and she said the day she entered the doorway with me in hand, she knew I wasn't going to die," Murphy said. "She said she had this type of feeling of someone speaking to her saying, 'She's not going anywhere.'" 

While the first few years of Murphy's life were colored by her illness, she kept progressing and growing stronger. When she was about two, the couple decided to adopt her officially and, after a two year process, the adoption was finalized when Murphy was four. At that time, Murphy's name was also changed from Ashley Elizabeth Andrews (her birth mother's last name) to Ashley Rose Murphy. 

Courtesy of Kari Murphy 
Courtesy of Kari Murphy 

Though Murphy has always known she's adopted, she never felt different or strange because of it. "I'm very fortunate to have had an open adoption, so I've known my birth family ever since I was little," she explained. "There was no hidden secret or anything. I always knew, and it was just normal." Even with her adoption being so open, Murphy has never felt like anything other than the Murphys' daughter. "Just because I was adopted, that wasn't my label … I was treated with the exact same respect and love as my siblings that were naturally my parents' kids, so I never felt different," she said. "I always grew up in a loving home that didn't go by labels or judgments — we were just a family." 

While she can only speak from her own experience, Murphy thinks a common misconception people may have about adoption is that the parent-child dynamic is different from the relationships that develop between children and their biological parents. "It's completely the same. In some cases, it couldn't be, maybe that is an actual occurrence," she said.  "But for my family, from the day I entered their house, it was never like that — or for any of my other siblings."

The Murphy family 
The Murphy family  Courtesy of Sandy Nichols

That's why she encourages couples interested in adopting children to "go for it." That said, she adds, "Don't go for the typical … A lot of couples, when they want to adopt, they go for the little baby who is healthy, but I would advise them to look beyond it." Murphy is quick to acknowledge how "amazing" and important it is for people to adopt children at all, but she also wants to emphasize the need to adopt children who are too often overlooked because they're living with physical and/or mental disabilities, an illness, or are simply older. 

"I was so overlooked because, back in the day, HIV was something that a lot of people feared … Now it's something that people can live with and thrive despite having this illness," she said.  "... Don't overlook all of the children who have issues because they might need help as well."  

Because Murphy was adopted by a loving and supportive family, she's received countless opportunities she might not have had otherwise. One of those opportunities was the chance to speak publicly about her HIV experience when Murphy was only 10 years old. Now, she's an outspoken HIV advocate who has made multiple television appearances, met Charlize Theron, and inspired stadiums filled with 20,000 other kids. "... I use my story in the hopes of showing people that, yes, I was born with HIV and, yes, I have gone through a lot, but it's because of my HIV that I have grown a lot," she concludes. While she understands it may sound a bit odd, living with HIV has made Murphy "a healthier, stronger, happier person." 

Murphy with Charlize Theron
Murphy with Charlize Theron Courtesy of Scott Ramsay

"The way I see it, I don't look to my HIV as being a burden or something that I wish had never happened because, without it, I don't think I'd be the person I am," Murphy said. "... I'm very grateful for it because I wouldn't have this amazing family that I have." 

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