The Woman Behind a Secret Grey's Anatomy Experiment

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In 2006, editors from Newsweek magazine picked this picture for the front of an issue on the 25th anniversary of AIDS. The woman, Jennifer Jako, was HIV positive and 6 months pregnant.

About nine years ago, 17.5 million people tuned into an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that, on the surface, appeared like any other — high-stakes surgery, high-drama love triangles. What those millions of Grey’s viewers didn’t know was that they were guinea pigs for a massive, secret experiment.

That experiment was arguably a referendum about a single woman: Jennifer Jako, and her decision to become a mother.

In 1991, at the age of 18, Jako had a one night stand with a high-school friend. It was the only time she’d ever had sex without a condom. She contracted HIV and spent years trying to debunk misconceptions: producing a documentary that aired on MTV, speaking at college campuses and on talk shows.

Over time, the country’s view of HIV evolved. As people started living longer, stigma decreased. People generally understood that the infection wasn’t a death sentence any longer.

But there was one area people couldn’t seem to understand: Pregnancy. Studies showed the general public simply didn’t know — or didn’t believe — that an HIV-positive woman, with the right treatment, had a tremendously low chance of passing the virus onto her baby — less than 2-percent at the time.

Jennifer Jako got a cruel lesson in where the public stood when she appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine, six months pregnant.

Later, as an experiment, the Kaiser Family Foundation decided to see if they could move the needle by trying something totally different: product placement of medical information in a Grey’s Anatomy episode.

In this episode of Only Human we tell the epic story of Jennifer Jako and how she managed to sneak into our livings rooms and, possibly, change public opinion forever.

Music Playlist

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    Artist: Ruby Velle
    Album: Used Me Again (Now Lose Me Forever)
  2. The Man Says - Instrumental

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  3. Today is My Birthday

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    Album: Business of Punishment
  4. Execution

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    Album: Atmospheric Electric Guitar
  5. Saver

    Artist: Podington Bear
    Album: Bon Voyage
  6. Flitless

    Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
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    Artist: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics
    Album: It's About Time - Instrumentals
  8. aurau

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    Artist: Kevin MacLeod
    Album: Global Sampler
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    Album: Replicants, Nexus & Noir
  12. My Dear - Instrumental

    Artist: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics
    Album: It's About Time - Instrumentals