Here's to a Decade of Life, Love, and Dreams!!!
At the age of 15, I met and married the man that I thought was the love of my life. Like a lot of Latino couples, we started a family right away. The day after finding out I was pregnant I had to go to the emergency room because I had a horrible fever and was really sick to my stomach. I found out I had PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), which had been caused by gonorrhea. I couldn't believe it, but I took the medication anyway. Since I was pregnant I had an HIV test, and it was negative. During the next five months something kept nagging at me that something was wrong. I asked the doctor for another HIV test, and he asked, "Why? Are you cheating on your husband?" I said "No!" "Do you think he is sleeping around?" Again, I replied "No." With shock, he asked if I was using drugs, I was a bit offended and replied "No!" So then he asked if my husband was and once more it was, "No!" "Well then," he said, "you don't need another test. You are not at risk and your test was negative at the beginning of your pregnancy." I suggested to him that it should be no big deal just to repeat the test, and that everything should be fine. Finally the doctor gave in and repeated the test. Fifteen days later I got a call from my doctor's office that my doctor wanted to see me right away. I knew what he was going to tell me. I was HIV+.
At the tender age of 16, I had HIV. That was in 1996. Protease Inhibitors had just come out, and it was unclear whether or not they were safe during pregnancy. I lived in a small community where it was unheard of that a pregnant, Hispanic, teenage female could have HIV. So, I had to travel one-hour south to Seattle to get my HIV medical care and continued to receive my primary care close to home. My family doctor worked with the HIV team in Seattle, and I was able to get my labs at home instead of traveling so far. When I went into labor we found out that the hospital didn't have liquid AZT. That meant I had to hand-carry it to the hospital so I could have it during delivery. I felt alone, and I had no one to talk to! I needed answers and began to educate myself as much as possible around HIV.
One year later another 16 year-old pregnant girl in the county was diagnosed with HIV. The county case manager called me to ask if I could take her under my wing -- to guide her into medical care, to help her to disclose to her family, and to have someone to talk to. After talking to my family doctor he agreed to work with her and so did I. That is when I decided to start advocating for HIV+ teens. There was obviously something wrong, in my perspective. This girl had been diagnosed at the County Health Department and they didn't know what to do with her. There were no resources for young HIV+ women. No one had been there for me, and I didn't want this young woman to experience the same things that I had. I then became the first HIV+ volunteer in my county. I sat on a volunteer committee for the Health Department and we raised funds and helped to coordinate support services for HIV+ people. I also immediately began speaking out in local high schools. I had been popular in school, and no one expected that this could happen to me. I wanted to dispel that myth.
Now as my ten-year anniversary of being HIV+ quickly approaches I spend my days as a youth peer advocate for HIV+ youth. I work for Circle of Care through the Downtown Youth Clinic (DYC) -- both agencies are part of the Family Care Network that serves HIV+ women, families and youth. As a youth peer advocate at the DYC, I provide emotional support to HIV+ youth and let them know that I've been there, and I show them that they can survive this. I am also a linkage coordinator, doing STD/HIV testing and counseling. And I go out to local high schools, group homes and colleges and talk to youth about the real world, in terms that they can understand. Now, I've been trained as a health educator so I not only tell them my story, but I do health education too.
When I found out that I was positive I never thought, "I'm gonna die." I knew that I had to make the best of the time that I had, and to do something worthwhile for others. When I'm not working or doing speaking engagements, I spend the rest of my time as a proud mommy of three (who are all HIV-). This is my life, my love, and my passion.
Lizette Green (26) is a Youth Peer Advocate with Circle of Care.
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This article was provided by Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases. It is a part of the publication WORLD Newsletter. Visit WORLD's website to find out more about their activities and publications.