Testing HIV Positive in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault
January 3, 2011
How many other AIDS organizations are in your area?
Beaver County, it's just me. It's just Project HOPE. In Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, is Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. They have the Persad Center, which is the second oldest mental health facility for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Then they have Shepherd Wellness Community, the Pitt Men's Study.
So there are resources.
Yeah, the Gay Lesbian Community Center.
You're the only one in your town.
In my county, mm hmm.
You're kind of taking on the --
Taking on the world. [Laughs.]
How does that make you feel? A lot of people may have been scared.
No, I'm not scared at all. It's rewarding. I really enjoy going out and doing it and helping people. I get hugs from my clients when I give them their food. If I can afford getting a $10 gift card to Giant Eagle for them for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, we try to do that, something special. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, actually last year we made food, my family and friends, turkey dinner for Thanksgiving and a ham dinner for Christmas.
And these are for your clients?
A lot of your clients, they live below the poverty line?
Yeah, the majority of them. A lot of them get disability and are on welfare.
I'm going to go back to you for a little bit. What do you do to keep healthy, other than taking meds? You said you adhere to your meds, your labs are looking good, but what else do you do for yourself to stay healthy? Do you take vitamins? Do you work out?
I work out. I try to go to the gym at least five to six times a week.
I haven't been since I've been down here.
You haven't been to the gym? I went to the gym yesterday. I might go to the gym afterwards.
The one thing about vacation is that I'm not going to do it. I did bring my gym clothes, but I did not use them.
Do you do any type of yoga, any type of meditation, anything like that?
Are you juicing, making carrot juice?
No, I just don't really drink pop. I don't eat sugar. I try to eat as healthy as possible. I'm a very big germaphobe. I'm very conscious of touching myself, my mouth with my hands or anything like that, any type of germs. I think it's just from 13 years of having to worry about it.
And so how have you changed since you've been diagnosed, just emotionally, mentally?
I'm a stronger person. It's made me a lot stronger.
Do you value the same things back then that you value now?
Back then I was a little bit of a wild child. I'm a lot more mature, a lot older now, so I've learned. There's more to life than just partying.
Do you think you've become closer to your family?
I know you said you told your dad that you were going to be on The Body. He actually went to the website.
That's really great support. A lot of people don't have that.
I know. I'm very, very fortunate. My family and friends are very, very supportive of me and of Project HOPE.
So what advice would you give to someone who's just found out they're positive?
Go to support groups. Definitely get in contact with your local AIDS service organization. If not, [there are] national organizations that you can contact. I just learned about Second Life; I think it's what it's called. It's some type of virtual world that has online support groups for people with HIV/AIDS, which I'm going to definitely check out once I get back to my room. Definitely get into care. There's certain guidelines that everybody wants you go to at, but just do the research yourself, for yourself.
Do you find in the rural areas that it's difficult for people to have access to computers to be able to look at a lot of the online stuff? And does Project HOPE have computers at your organization for people to access?
Actually I came here on a scholarship. I wrote a grant for a computer system for my clients to use for recreation, for looking for jobs, housing, whatever they needed to use. We're going to give them a certain amount of time, like an hour, whatever they want to use it as.
Do you feel that's a disconnect, that there's a lot of people who don't have access to the Internet and here's all this amazing information on the Internet? I think it's great that you applied for a grant because especially in the rural areas, there's a lot of people who do work in the deep South where Internet's not -- and really everything's on the Internet now. Did your clients come to you and say they wanted to have better computer --
There's a couple, I'd say probably, I have 23 clients and I'd say probably at least 10 maybe have a computer and are online, maybe 15. So there's a few that are pretty way out in the boonies.
And so my final question. How long do you see yourself doing this work?
Forever. I don't think I'll stop.
No. Not until it's my time.
Great. And with that we bring this interview to an end. Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us today.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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