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Local and Community News

Activist: The Secret Was Killing Me Faster than the Disease

October 10, 2002

"By the time you graduate high school, I'll be dead." That's what Rae Lewis-Thornton would tell her enraptured student audiences when she first began speaking out in 1994.

In 1986, Lewis-Thornton organized a blood drive at work to help with a local shortage that had resulted from public fears over donation. Then, three months later, a Red Cross worker notified her she was HIV-positive. Lewis-Thornton returned to work without telling a soul, and, thanks to relatively good health, kept her secret for seven years. But when her T-cell count and dress size dropped, and her drug regimen skyrocketed from three pills to 23, Lewis-Thornton realized the time had come to tell. "The secret was killing me quicker than the disease," she said.

After accepting an invitation for a non-gay, non-drug-using HIV-positive individual to speak at an area high school, Lewis-Thornton quit her job in politics. This was the first indication of what would prove to be a call to public ministry of HIV education and outreach. She addressed three assemblies that day; by the third one, kids were skipping class to hear her speak again. "I gave AIDS a face that black Americans had not seen." "What I do is not public speaking," she insists. "What I do is minister to people. HIV is the catalyst that gets me through the door, but it's not all I talk about. I talk about women loving themselves before loving men. I talk about overcoming obstacles."

During the past seven years, Lewis-Thornton has suffered numerous complications from HIV as well as side effects from her drug regimens. Recent tests revealed she has developed resistance to two of the four major classes of AIDS medicine. She now takes a quintuple drug cocktail in a last-ditch effort to boost her immune system. The 21 pill-a-day routine seems to be working: Her T-cell count is on the rise. Today, Lewis-Thornton has cut back her public speaking engagements to concentrate on her work toward a master's degree in divinity as she prepares to become an ordained Baptist minister.

Back to other CDC news for October 10, 2002

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Adapted from:
Chicago Tribune
10.02.02; Leslie Goldman

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
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