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HIV, Hepatitis C and You

A Guide for Coinfected People

December 2011

Up Close & Personal: George Burgess

Age: 57
From: Atlanta, Ga.
Diagnosed With HIV: 1995
Diagnosed With Hep C: 1995
HIV Viral Load: 100,000
CD4 Count: 20

"A friend of mine took me into an abandoned building, reached into the wall and pulled out a dirty needle. It was dirtier than the Hudson River," George Burgess recalls. "But my addiction said, 'Use that needle anyway.'"

It may well have been that needle that gave George both HIV and hepatitis C. Then again, considering he was addicted to heroin for 27 years, he may have been infected at any time in the 1980s or early 1990s.

Regardless, 1995 was the year everything changed for George: He was diagnosed with HIV and hep C, told he had a CD4 count of 43, and given four months to live.

So much for that grim prediction. In 2011, George celebrated 16 years of life since those twin diagnoses. He's alive, off drugs and sober, and has long since left behind a life marked by crime and violence.

In an ironic twist, George credits his infection with the two life-threatening viruses as having changed his life for the better. "I think the hepatitis C and HIV diagnoses keep my recovery in place," George says. "Why risk your life?"

Another key to George's recovery was finding care providers who truly care about his well-being. His current, longtime doctor disagreed with the one who told him he'd be dead within four months. They've worked together to keep George healthy. "She was really good for me, and she's still good for me," George says. "We're a great team."

George feels the same way about his social worker, who he's also worked with for more than a decade and who he calls his "earth angel."

Still, George realizes that staying healthy involves keeping a delicate balance. "I try not to do anything to jeopardize [my health]. ... I know that being coinfected, I have to work -- not work extra hard -- I just have to be a little more careful."

George also strives to keep himself not just healthy, but happy as well. "Quality of life is the most important thing," he explains. "Enjoy your life, and educate other folks."

George has learned a lot of powerful lessons over the past 16 years; and in his work as an HIV treatment educator, he's had many chances to pass those lessons on to others. "I look at AIDS as an acronym: Always In Divine Service; Always In Divine Space," he says. "I like being of service."

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Copyright © 2011 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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