Eve van Grafhorst's brave Aids battle made Kiwis kinder - 150 Years of News

Eve van Grafhorst wearing Arahura Captain John Brew's hat after asking if she could go on the ferry docked in Wellington ...
DAVE HANSFORD

Eve van Grafhorst wearing Arahura Captain John Brew's hat after asking if she could go on the ferry docked in Wellington in 1992 - just a year before the disease killed her.

Eve van Grafhorst's plight put a human face to the scourge of Aids while her joyful courage in fighting the disease over years of agonising treatments and spirit-draining infections inspired a nation.

In July 1982 Eve was born prematurely in Australia, but one of the life-saving blood-transfusions she was given was infected with HIV. By November 1993 the virus would ultimately kill her – but not before she had made her indelible mark on the world. 

"When the infection was diagnosed a month short of her third birthday she immediately became a 'leper' in the New South Wales community of Kincumber. Residents shunned and harrassed the family," The Evening Post reflected following her death.

HIV-infected four-year-old Eve van Grafhorst (top centre) is welcomed by children at St Aubyn Pre-school centre in ...
THE DOMINION

HIV-infected four-year-old Eve van Grafhorst (top centre) is welcomed by children at St Aubyn Pre-school centre in Hastings after prejudice and fear forced her family to leave her native Australia.

Gosford mayor Dirk O'Connor later apologised for the way his town had treated her.

"She was a beacon who certainly made us face our ignorance and fear," he said.

In tribute the Post remembered a little girl who had "touched the nation's heart" and "did much to change New Zealanders' attitudes towards Aids." 

The family moved to Hastings after a public appeal started by former Napier journalist Robert Stockdill raised $12,000 to help with the move and in March 1990 The Dominion reported Eve was responding well to Aids drug AZT.

"The treatment has worked beyond the family's wildest dreams, with the virus retreating from Eve's bloodstream to her white blood cells."

The previous year The Dominion Sunday Times interviewed Eve's mother Gloria van Grafhorst (now Carey) who criticised reports her daughter was at death's door.

"Eve is like three children wrapped into one. She is always on the go," Carey said.

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In a 1994 feature the Post published an extract from a handwritten letter Eve wrote to children, which read:

"People think I am brave but my mummy is the one who helps me be strong. She loves me very much and cares for me and my other friends who have Aids too. She hugs and cares for everyone."

Carey went on to describe that binding love in poignant detail.

"In hospital when she was a wee baby she'd sense when I walked into the room and open her eyes wide and the blips on the monitors would slow down. Her system would calm down. The nurses said it was uncanny.

"She died with her eyes full open like that. It reminded me of that. Even breastfeeding her eyes were so alert. We had such an incredible bond right from the word go."

When The Dominion Post interviewed Carey 20 years after Eve's death she recalled the petty ignorance of the community that shunned the family. 

Eve's friends were beaten up, people would cross the road to avoid her, and neighbours built high fences around their properties to protect themselves from Aids.

"It was very barbaric really," Carey told the newspaper.

But Eve's life –and death – changed how people on both sides of the Tasman saw HIV/Aids.

Nearly 700 people attended her funeral, then believed to be Hawke's Bay's biggest.

"Her small white casket lay covered in flowers, candles and one simple smiling photograph of the child whose short life became a symbol to New Zealanders of the fight against Aids," The Dominion reported.

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The Dominion Post - 150 Years of News is available via dompost.co.nz or 0800 50 50 90. Priced at $34.95 + $3 postage and handling or $29.95 + $3 p&h for subscribers.

 

 

 - Stuff

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