Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Lolisa Gibson. When Lolisa got tested for HIV in 2004, she was certain that she was HIV negative. So when her results came back positive, she was utterly shocked. It was a lot for a 17-year-old to take in, but the more she learned about HIV, the more she didn't let her diagnosis stop her from living. Lolisa, a proud mother of a baby boy, talks to us about coping with her diagnosis, becoming an HIV educator/public speaker, and being in a mixed-status relationship with a man.
This is Olivia Ford reporting for TheBody.com. Welcome, Lolisa, to This Positive Life.
You're very welcome. Can you start by describing how you found out you were HIV positive?
When I found out I was HIV positive, it was because I had been getting sick and my doctor had asked me to get tested.
How old were you at the time?
I was 17.
How long had you been getting sick for?
Before I got tested, I had two different sicknesses within two months period of time. So it started when I was 16 and moved onto when I was 17.
So when the doctor told you, what did you think and how did you feel when you first heard?
When he told me to get tested or when he told me I was positive?
Let's start with when he told you to get tested. What did you think when he told you maybe you should get an HIV test?
When he told me to get tested, I didn't think anything of it. I didn't know anything about HIV, so I just knew that I didn't have it. So it wasn't a big deal for me to get tested.
And why were you so sure that you didn't have it, at the time?
At the time, because I didn't know anything about HIV. I just knew that there was a certain look to HIV. I knew that I didn't use drugs, I didn't sleep around, so I knew that I wasn't putting myself at risk to get HIV.
So when you got the results, was anybody with you?
Yes, he actually gave me my results over the phone and my mom was on the other phone at the time.
Oh wow. Do you know why he gave you the results over the phone as opposed to in person?
That day, he had kept calling while I was at school. It was a Tuesday in January 2004. He kept calling. When I came home from school, my mom told me that the doctor had kept calling that day and wanted me to come in. But by this time, it was about 6:30 to 7:00 at night. So coming into the doctor's office this late where you have to take a bus, it would have been like a half an hour bus ride, so I just wasn't feeling it, so he called again after I got home. My mom had called me to the phone and said he was on the phone. Once I picked up the phone, he told me he had the results to the test. And he asked me if it was OK to tell me over the phone. I didn't think much of it, so I just said, "Yeah." And my mom stayed on the other phone and we both heard at the same time.
So what did you think when you first heard?
When I first heard, my mind just went blank. My whole childhood, I've been in love with Bow Wow. My only goal was just to marry him when I grew up. So when he told me, the first thing I thought was, "I'm never going to marry Bow Wow." I still didn't know what HIV was but I thought Bow Wow was never going to marry me. And I thought I was going to die right that very second.
So now how did you first start to learn about HIV? For instance, was it around that time you realized how you got HIV?
Actually, my doctor he, it was so urgent for me to come in that day, because he had set up an appointment for the following day with a specialist of a different clinic for children. So he wanted me to come in because he had already made me an appointment for the next day. So since he told us over the phone, he also told us about the appointment for the next day. So me and my mom went there. The specialist, he told us that my viral load was greater than 100,000 and that I had 115 T cells, which was really bad. He asked me about my past and things I had done. I hadn't done anything except for having sex and use condoms. He started asking my mom about her past, and most of the things, she didn't do.
He started saying, with my viral load being so high, he thought I could have had it for longer than 10 years without knowing. He was saying there was no way I could have gotten it within two years of having sex with condoms and it would be that bad. So that's when I started getting educated. When I left the doctor's office that day, I still didn't know anything about HIV. I just knew that now I had it. That means I had to take this medicine. But I didn't know what HIV was.
So now backing up a little bit, it sounds as if you had had it for a long time, so was there talk about there was a chance that you had gotten it from your mom or that you had had it basically your whole life? How was that introduced?
The doctor told my mom to come in. He told my mom to get tested. He told her to bring my two younger brothers for them to get tested as well. My brothers came back negative, but my mom came back positive. So we just came to the conclusion that I was born with it because even the guy I was having sex with, he didn't have it. So it was like process of elimination, that's how I got it.