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Project Runway's Mondo Guerra on Treatment Teams, "I Design" and What He Learned From Maria Davis

November 15, 2014

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Mondo Guerra

Mondo Guerra

Ever since Mondo Guerra publicly declared his HIV-positive status on Project Runway as a competitor during the eighth season, his life hasn't been the same. For the past three years, he has worked with Merck & Co., Inc., to deliver important messaging around HIV treatment and adherence via I Design. I Design emphasizes the ability of people living with HIV to tailor their health care to their needs.

Each year that Mondo has been a part of I Design, I've been able to catch up with him for a quick chat to find out what's new and how he's affecting people's lives. This time, we were able to catch up in San Diego at the U.S. Conference on AIDS. This time, Mondo was more candid than ever, discussing how his status has affected his family, what he's learned about women living with HIV from his new I Design partner Maria Davis and why it's OK to get emotional with your doctor.

What are the things that have marked what I Design is doing in 2014?

I think the major thing for me personally is, this is my third year with the campaign. And it's really grown in the past three years. I love that we've always implemented this idea of participation with the campaign. We always try to do something that is community focused, and has this idea of engaging them through different mediums.

The first year we did kind of like a collage, and then last year we did the painting.


This year we have something really special planned introducing our newest member of the team, who is Maria Davis. She's really, really wonderful.

I'm a gay man that has lived with HIV for 14 years and it's really amazing to talk to her, have this conversation with her. Because there's so much more to being HIV positive. And to have this different point of view, this different perspective, and hear how she handles living with HIV, as a woman -- I really feel like there is definitely crossover. We do definitely have emotional similarities, but there's a lot of physical things that are completely different.

And this year, especially, I feel like there's a whole group of people that I really want to see and share what's been happening with me. Through the campaign, we're still focused on really empowering people living with HIV to take a tailored approach to managing their treatment. But this year, what we really want to ask is, "When you get into that doctor's office, how do you feel? What do you feel?"

At this point, in my own healthy life -- it's really been expanded. Because I talk to my HIV doctor about how I am feeling emotionally, how I am feeling health-wise. Because we have to gain weight, and all that stuff. So I'm really focusing on physical and emotional, at this point, while still talking about HIV. Right now what it really is, is about engaging not only your HIV doctor, but your entire health care team. For me, it's about talking to my therapist, and talking to my nutritionist. And these are all really important players in managing my own healthy life.

When I went into the doctor [in years past], I didn't even want to go in. There were parts of my life, in living with HIV, that I didn't show. For me, it was really exciting when I realized that I wasn't defined by HIV. Since I was 31 -- I'm 36 now -- all the positivity that has come out of all of this has really allowed me to engage more with my support system. For me, it is my health care team. It's my doctor, and it's my therapist, and it's my nutritionist -- even my pharmacist (I talk to her every time I go in there). And it's not all clinical stuff. It's just allowing them inside, you know? And telling them how you feel.

And it doesn't have to always be medical things.

I was dealing with a lot of shame, and a lot of guilt. And I wasn't allowing people to help me because I felt like it was my fault that I was [infected] and that I transmitted the disease. So, at this point, I'm really letting go of personal stuff.

It's taken a long time. I was diagnosed when I was 22; I'm 36 now. And it really is so much, you know? So, so much. But for a long time I have been so involved in creative goals. Like accomplishing this, wanting this, needing that. And that makes me happy. That keeps me going. But it doesn't necessarily keep me healthy. Because that comes with its own stresses, and whatnot. So I think now that I'm really focusing on personal goals that's going to really make my healthy life victorious.

You were saying before that you've been doing I Design now for three years. This is my third year interviewing you and I have seen the evolution of the campaign. And from what you've said just now, I see that there's currently a really great emphasis on treatment teams.


That's a hot topic in HIV care right now.

But I also think that it can be overwhelming for people to go from just having a doctor to being in care and having several new people in their life monitoring them.

What do you say to people? How can they balance those relationships, or manage them?

I think that it's important to take baby steps. We're always in a learning process. If you feel like you're overwhelmed, step back.

My mom always tells me, "If you're feeling overwhelmed, or if you feel like something's not working, what do you eliminate?"

For example, maybe you are seeing a nutritionist, and a therapist, and a doctor. If you aren't able to handle all of that right now, you should ask yourself, "How do I navigate that?" Maybe you see the therapist once every two weeks, instead of every week. Maybe you make a deal with your nutritionist, like, "I'm doing this, this, this, this, but one day, I want to eat whatever I want."

So, make it personal to you, but also be able to focus on those goals. It's really important to make goals.

I think that lesson was learned when I was on Project Runway the very first time, in season 8. I was very shy. I didn't want to participate. But then I finally made that decision: "OK, I'm here. This is an opportunity. I have to do the best I can."

At that moment, it wasn't just for me; it was for a lot of people in my life. And then I would say, "OK, let me just get to the next challenge. I'm going to knock it out of the park." And then I did. And then after that, "OK, the next two -- I'm going to stay here till, like, No. 6." And then I did, and I did, and I did, all the way to the end. And now that I look back, it was really because I was setting goals for me, for myself.

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This article was provided by TheBody.


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