Landmark Moments in Living with HIV

Olivia Ford April 26, 2016
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People Living with HIV Share their Turning Point
People Living with HIV Share their Turning Point

Can you remember a moment in your life when a vital realization hit you? When a crisis, while dragging you down, also opened your eyes? When a person intervened and showed you how a hard situation could be turned around? In this collection of voices and stories, we've highlighted key moments that made a tremendous difference in the lives of our community members.

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Angelikah Demonikah
Angelikah Demonikah

Ultimately, my HIV-positive status helped me get it together ... [A]bout a year after I found out [I was positive] and I relapsed [on meth], I started developing a really bad reaction to the drugs I was putting in my body.
And then I saw my acupuncturist. She was like, "You're allergic to those drugs[.] ... It's not organic. Stop doing that[.]" ... I stopped getting high.

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Patricia Nalls
Patricia Nalls

I put a flyer in the [doctor's] office that said, "If you're a woman living with this disease, please call this number."


The first time the phone rang, it was shocking. It was a woman who had seen the flyer. She was crying -- she was in crisis. I shared my own story, told her how I've gotten to where I am, which was still very sick. I remember telling her, "You will be OK."

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Carmen Anthony Sacco
Carmen Anthony Sacco

I had my guitar with me[.] … I kept looking at it, wanting to play it, but I just didn't have the strength to do it. It wasn't just my body -- I had so much despair and anger in me it was hard to motivate myself to get healthy again so I could continue living.

 I went to visit my doctor during, he asked me what I wanted to do for the next 20 years. I said, "music -- I have a lot of songs to write." He told me, "Get off your a** and do it!"

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Raquel Sapien
Raquel Sapien

[HIV was] kind of like a blessing for me. Because I probably would have overdosed and died. I really didn't care -- until I told my mother that I was positive, and she urged me to take care of myself. It's your mother saying, "I love you, and it's going to be OK. I want you to live. I want you not to suffer."

It empowered me and it showed me how to love myself and care about myself.

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Justin B. Terry-Smith
Justin B. Terry-Smith

When it comes to HIV, it is really important that one keeps their stress levels down .… I've decided to not let anything or anyone stress me out, and if that means cutting people out of my life completely or putting them in another category, so be it.

I had a situation where … I got upset... I was having an anxiety attack[.] ... After that moment I decided NO MORE STRESS.

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Mondo Guerra
Mondo Guerra

I never thought about the struggles [women] might feel[.] … I feel like a lot of women living with HIV don't have a voice because society doesn't expect them to be HIV positive.

 [Campaign partner] Maria [Davis] … opened my eyes … [S]he has to battle a lot of opinions, and a lot of assumptions, a lot of all that attached emotion to the disease -- so much more than me, as a male living with HIV.

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Maria T. Mejia
Maria T. Mejia

Being a part of the Greater Than AIDS campaign resurfaced many issues that I thought had healed, but the reality is that I was just glued together. Now, I am in intensive therapy for the first time in my life. I was in a very dark space, greater than any other pain I had felt before[.] I am so happy my wife pushed for us to get help, individually and together! This saved my life and maybe our marriage.

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Philip D.
Philip D.

Sometimes, when I get resentful of my daily dose … I remind myself, "[Journalist] Robert [De Andreis] would have loved the chance to take your single-tablet regimen[.]"… I believe if I say his name and remember him once in a while, then he really isn't gone.

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Damaries Cruz
Damaries Cruz

Your T cells, they are like soldiers; they help your immune system. But I felt as if they were my kids, waiting there, like, "What are you doing? Come on, help me." And I felt so guilty, so guilty, that I just had to say, "You know what? Help is on the way. I'm going to do what I need to do. Do not worry." Then … I started researching HIV medications.

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Lolisa Gibson-Hunte
Lolisa Gibson-Hunte

[My social worker] introduced me to other girls that came to the clinic that were born with [HIV].

 [T]hey kind of knew what was going on but they didn't really understand. … I was the one to sit down with them and [explain it.] The doctors were praising me, like, "What did you say to them? They never took their medicine. Now they're taking it, undetectable." So after I realized I could reach them, I wanted to reach more people.

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Richard Cordova
Richard Cordova

I was taking the meds. I started to get healthier. I quickly became undetectable. My CD4 count started to climb. I thought, “I'm going to die. I'm not going to live to see 30."
And that thought would continue on for me, for years. The realization came to me that I was going to die, but it wasn't going to be from HIV; it was going to be from the partying, from doing all the drugs. And that was kind of the aha moment.

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Teniecka Drake
Teniecka Drake

I usually can always find a positive out of something. Except for the ending of last year up to just recently I could not. Since my baby is 15 months I cannot chalk this up to my hormones still being out of whack.

[C]rying it out alone works wonders. Doing things with my hands also helps. … It is just a storm passing through and, as the saying goes, "What does not kill you makes you stronger."

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George Burgess
George Burgess

[A social worker] sat on my bed and touched my feet. ... She said she was going to get me into drug treatment and she got me into drug treatment.

 I went directly to the drug treatment program. … I  went to meet my primary care provider. I became her patient. A week later, I started volunteering at AIDS Survival Project[.] … A week later,  I went to my first support group[.]