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This Positive Life: An Interview With Wanda Hernandez

March 1, 2011

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Inspiring stories of people living with HIV.

When Wanda was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, she was completely shocked; she thought she had always practiced safer sex. Like many people who are newly diagnosed, fear began to take over. But instead of letting that fear consume her, she educated herself about HIV and eventually became an activist lobbying in Albany, N.Y., on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. This mother of one talks about the loneliness of being positive and working in corporate America, the importance of securing housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, and why the AIDS community can never give up hope.

Welcome to This Positive Life. I am here today with Wanda Hernandez. Wanda, Welcome to This Positive Life.

Thank you Kellee and welcome to my home.

It's so lovely and thank you for having me. Let's start by describing how you found out that you were HIV-positive.

I was diagnosed in 1995. I became ill because I am asthmatic and I had a high fever that just would not go away. This happened six months from having had sexual contact with someone who either didn't know or didn't care about his quality of life. I found out after being hospitalized and having every test in the book, that I was positive.


How old were you then?

I was 35.

What had you known about HIV before you were diagnosed?

Before I was diagnosed, I knew about protection and people being able to lead a normal life. About the medications that were out and basically, I was somewhat about HIV educated before I found out that I was positive.

When you heard the words, "Wanda you are positive," what did you think?

Like every other person who is newly diagnosed, I was devastated, like, "Wow, my life is over." But my life isn't over. I found that out, through my education. I decided to fight back, get educated and find out all the things that I need to know in order to survive. Because you could lead a normal life -- I have learned for the past 16 years. I tell people: Don't give up, because there is life after HIV.

So let's go back to that day that you tested positive. You said you were devastated. Walk me through those moments. Were you like, "When should I start treatment?" Or were you like, "Oh my God, I have to get out of here."

I felt more like the "Oh my God, this cannot be happening to me." I mean, I was such a cautious person. But you always think that "This is not going to happen to me." But, it wasn't about the diagnosis; it was more the way it was presented to me when it was given to me. I found it to be a little bit harder because of how it was presented to me.

Actually, I got my diagnosis at a facility that is supposed to be Catholic oriented and the one person whose job it was to give my diagnosis, I didn't feel was too professional about it.

"Like every other person who is newly diagnosed, I was devastated, like, 'Wow, my life is over.' But my life isn't over."

You didn't think he was compassionate at all?

No, not the way he presented it.

So, after that incident, where did you go to get care?

Well, I didn't go there, but I did go and get a second opinion. It's always important to get a second opinion because mistakes do occur. So I went to, unfortunately Southview Clinic where Senator Espada -- of course that is his clinic. But there as well, yes I found out that the diagnosis was correct, I was put on medication right away. Unfortunately, I didn't know at the time that you could hold off on the medication -- it's a choice you take -- but being that I was new at it and did not know what to do and was depending on my doctor and her advice, I started on the meds right away.

I've been, today until 2011, I have always been at a level considered 100 percent healthy, my CD4 count has always been over 1000 and I have always been undetectable.

So has that been the first HIV test you had ever had?

When I was first diagnosed, yes. When I got the second test, of course that was the second time. Same year of course, but that had been the only one. I didn't feel that I was at risk, which I guess was a big mistake because even of course in our sexual orientation, or what you do, you always use your protection, but things can occur no matter what.

Did you didn't think you were at risk?

Not that I didn't think that I wasn't at-risk , more like I didn't think it was going to happen to me because I was extra careful.

So how do you think you knew how you became positive?

I know exactly how I became positive -- it was sexually transmitted. There was protection, it was actually someone I trusted and gave the chance to have something to do with. And I feel that the mistake when the person might have taken the condom, or took it the next level by deciding that he was going to remove the condom and not put it back and not let me know. And things happen in less than a second and that's how it goes.

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This article was provided by TheBody.


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