Wellness

I Don’t Remorse Getting HIV As a result of It Saved My Life


As advised to Aviva Patz

September 18, 2022, is Nationwide HIV/AIDS and Growing old Consciousness Day.

It’s onerous to consider that HIV may very well be a blessing, however for me, it was.

That’s as a result of it gave me an opportunity to vary my life.

After having been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran away from house at 13 solely to be positioned within the foster care system, the place I used to be sexually abused once more. By the point I used to be identified with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I used to be residing on the streets of Miami, relationship the chief of a violent avenue gang and committing crimes myself, together with armed theft. I used to be filled with anger and self-hatred.

Satirically, my HIV prognosis got here simply after I was making an attempt to show my life round. I’d left the gang after I was 17 and moved again in with my mother, although she made it clear that she didn’t need me there as a result of she thought I used to be a troublemaker. Ultimately, I advised her I needed to go to Job Corps, a vocational college for teenagers in bother. I assumed it was my alternative to show that I used to be worthy.

I wasn’t sick in any respect, however at Job Corps, they did routine blood work on new college students to check for being pregnant and different situations. On TV, you solely noticed homosexual white males from San Francisco with HIV. By no means in my life did I feel I might be advised I used to be HIV optimistic.

The physician who identified me had no compassion. He simply blurted out, “You’ve AIDS.” It was horrible. He didn’t give me a pamphlet or something. However I didn’t cry. I simply put my head down and thought, I’m by no means going to get married, by no means going to have kids. Again then, HIV was a demise sentence.

I come from household, a conservative Catholic household from Colombia. And, the Latinx neighborhood is like, “Don’t ask, don’t inform,” so my mother sat me down and stated, “We will’t inform anybody within the household or pals. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I needed to maintain my HIV standing a secret.

On the time, the one remedy obtainable was a most cancers remedy referred to as AZT. They advised me within the clinic that I may get on AZT, however I must signal a waiver acknowledging that it may injury my inside organs. I stated, “Nope, I’m not taking that.”

After years with out remedy, my T cells went all the way down to 39 — the traditional vary is 500 to 1,400 per cubic millimeter of blood. I knew I may proceed dying or start medical remedy.

I selected to dwell.

At Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the place I used to be handled, I began going to instructional lessons in particular immunology. I went two hours a day, and I realized a lot. I used to be very talkative in these lessons, and each time I spoke, folks listened. The directors approached me and requested if I’d prefer to be a peer educator. They stated, “You helped so many individuals already.”

I received skilled by the well being division to counsel minorities — not solely Latinx folks but additionally the African American and LGBTQ communities and immigrants.

Maria Mejia talking to members of Congress

I by no means meant to grow to be an activist, however that’s the place I landed. Today, I assist go laws for the HIV neighborhood. And I’m a world ambassador, neighborhood advisory board member and A Lady Like Me blogger for The Nicely Mission, a nonprofit group giving data, help and instruments to ladies and women with HIV/AIDS.

I’ve based on-line help teams with 40,000 members, in English and Spanish. We’ve got folks from tribes in Africa all the way in which to Patagonia in South America. I name myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my center title. I don’t care — that’s how I appeal to folks.

I lead by instance, and I struggle stigma by humanizing the situation. I’m a long-term survivor who isn’t solely surviving however thriving. I’m one of the crucial seen faces of HIV on the earth, and I present that individuals with HIV can love, get married and have kids. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I don’t remorse that I received HIV as a result of, satirically, it saved my life.

It’s helped me develop in so some ways: I’ve realized to like myself and maintain myself and to be extra compassionate and religious. And, better of all, it’s made my function clear to me. I’ve met so many individuals who’ve been by way of so much, and collectively we’ve saved so many lives. In serving to others, I’ve discovered I additionally assist myself.



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