Macklemore & Ryan Lewis star opens up about his mom's HIV survival

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by CBS, KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on April 23, 2014 at 8:33 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 24 at 4:03 PM

SEATTLE, Wash. --You may know Spokane native Ryan Lewis as the fur coat-wearing, DeLorean-driving half of the rap duo known as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Their debut independent album "The Heist" reached No. 1 and earned them four Grammy awards. But despite being thrown head-first into fame, there is something Lewis has not talked much about, until now.

CBS News' Ben Tracy recently sat down with Lewis. Tracy asked, "When you got famous, did you assume at some point you'd have to talk more publicly about this?"

Lewis replied, "I mean, I have an AIDS ribbon tattooed on my arm. Like, if you're gonna do that, you gotta be kinda willing to share."

He's talking about his mother, Julie Lewis. She is HIV-positive. She's lived with the disease for 30 years.

Julie Lewis said, "I had been married couple of years, and we were expecting our first child. She was born, and it was a difficult delivery, and I lost a lot of blood, and so I ended up needing a blood transfusion."

It was 1984. Donated blood was not routinely checked for HIV. Six-and-a-half years later, Julie Lewis found out her donor was HIV-positive. She now had three children, including Ryan Lewis.

Julie Lewis said, "So my immediate concern was, 'Is our whole family infected?' Because the minute I found out I was HIV-positive, the next step was that every single person in our family needed to have an HIV test, and we had to wait three or four days for those tests to come back, and I will tell you that was the longest three or four days I will have ever lived."

Despite having a 25 percent chance of being HIV-positive, none of her children were infected. Neither was her husband. But Julie Lewis was told she would be dead within three to five years. She was 32 years old.

Ryan Lewis said, "And I remember having periods of fear almost - that fear that your mom's just gonna kinda be gone."

Ryan Lewis was just 6 years old when his dad told him about his mom's disease. They had tried to keep it secret in their community in Spokane, Wash.

"I told my second grade class," Ryan Lewis said.

Julie Lewis added, "He did. He told everyone."

"You know, I told the lady bagging the groceries at the Albertsons," Ryan Lewis said.

"We're, like, she's, like, checking our groceries," Julie Lewis recalled. "And he goes, 'Does she know that you have AIDS?' And I was, like, 'Well, I guess she does now.'"

In an online video launched Tuesday, Ryan Lewis announced his family's way of celebrating his mom's 30-year survival.

He says in the video, "We want to build medical centers worldwide that will stand strong for at least 30 years. It's called the 30/30 Project."

The first health center will be built in a village in Malawai, where more than 1 in 10 adults has HIV or AIDS. They currently have to walk two hours down a mountain to the nearest medical care.

"If that community stays healthy, that means that the parents stay healthy," Julie Lewis said. "And if the parents stay healthy, they can earn a living. And if they're earning a living, then those children can go to school."

The project is about helping the living. But for Julie Lewis, this is also about friends who died of AIDS. "There is survivor guilt there," she said. "Yes, I'm grateful that I lived. But I want to do something to honor all those people that we love dearly who died along the way."

Ryan Lewis and his music partner, Ben Haggerty - that's Macklemore's real name - are the first donors. They are hoping to inspire others to give and fund 30 health centers worldwide, serving 600,000 people.

Haggerty said in the 30/30 Project video, "We want to see this idea put into action."

Tracy asked Lewis, "If you weren't Ryan Lewis of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, is this possible? Could you do this?"

"I don't think you would be here," Ryan Lewis said with a laugh.

"That's probably true," Tracy said.

"That's probably true," Ryan Lewis said. "It's pretty amazing for me that my family could have this story, my mom could go through all of this and it could come to this point that I could use sort of the platform that's been provided to invest my time and energy into something that is just really positive."
 

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