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Teniecka Drake: Balancing HIV Advocacy, a Husband and Three Young Children

March 7, 2011

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What was your role in the military?

I didn't have an MOS [military occupational specialty], but I was supposed to be working in supplies. I got ill within 10 days of my basic training. So when I did get out, it was on medical discharge. I never actually got to shoot my M-16, which is what I wanted to do. But it's OK; I shot it in my mind, which makes up for the real thing.

Have you generally been happy with your care at the VA?

Yes, I have. I did have a private doctor I was seeing for a long time. He was the first doctor I saw, and he had been seeing me since 2001. But during that time I got really annoyed at him; he wasn't giving me any affirmations or making me feel good about myself. He would always have something negative to say. And I got fed up.


I had been with him for seven years. My husband -- at the time, my fiancé -- watched me blow up at the doctor. I was like, "Every single time I've come in here you are always negative. You're always talking about my being so overweight; I'm so this or that. But you don't never, ever say, 'Oh, it's good that you're undetectable.' You're always asking me am I taking my medication. If my viral load has spiked, than you should be the doctor, the professional, and find out what the reason is. And don't be asking me if it's because I'm [not] taking my meds. If the meds aren't working, then let's try a different regimen now. Shouldn't we?"

I got so fed up with the negativity that I kept getting every time I stepped into that doctor's office and went to speak with him; I just got irate. And then I got pregnant at the same time. He was like, "Oh."

My husband was excited. He was like, "We're going to have a little girl." And the doctor was like, "Oh, that's good." My husband looked at me, like, "Oh, is that bad that you're pregnant? I mean, should you have a baby, then?"

I was like, "Look here, Doc. We're going to have to cut ties. I'm done with you. You have made my husband feel like crap. He's excited to have a baby, and you're making him feel like crap. And I'm getting annoyed with you anyhow." So I got rid of him and went to the VA.

I remember some people were saying that if you do not like your doctors, you don't have to stay with them just because you've been with them so long. You can find another provider.

I have my own infectious disease doctor I see up there at the VA, Dr. Marinka Kartalija. She is great. She is awesome. She actually cares, not just about me and my medication, and my HIV and all that; she also cares about my family. She cares about my husband. "Has he found a job yet? How's the job situation? How's your housing situation? How are your babies doing? How are you feeling?" Not just, "Oh, well, your virus is doing good. Are you sure you're taking your meds?" She actually, actually cares. We have a good relationship. I remember when she came for us one day in the waiting room. She was like, "I'm ready to see my favorite patient." And she said it in front of a room that was full of other people -- and I'm pretty sure some people had her!

Every time we would come in -- one baby, two babies, three babies -- the whole doctors' room is just filled with my family. And their office rooms aren't that big, but here we are, all up in her office. And she's examining me and everything.

Do you have anything you want to add before we bring this interview to a close? Is there anything you want the readers at to know about you, or anything that you didn't get to talk about?

Well, if there's anyone out there that still feels a little lost, and you've been diagnosed with HIV, don't forget that you can contact me. I am available. So don't feel lost. It's not the end. Just be positive, and just keep trying to do the best that you can do and live your life. Because it's not over yet.

Teniecka, thank you so much. It was wonderful getting a chance to talk to you.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Send Teniecka an e-mail.

Olivia Ford is the community manager for and

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This article was provided by TheBody.
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Anita (Nigeria) Sun., Dec. 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm UTC
Your story was an encouragement to me. Just tested positive 2 months ago. Am really comfuse and depress. Planing to take my life. In nigeria been positive is not what u need to expose. If people get to know, they will avolding the person. God bless you and bless your family.
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Comment by: Vanessa (California) Wed., Sep. 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm UTC
i admire you soooo much, reading this has helped me get stronger,I do not have aids but I do suffer from depression, I think you are the most precious soul, Thank you for loving yourself and showing the workd how to....xoxo
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Comment by: yana (somalia) Tue., Jul. 3, 2012 at 2:50 am UTC
my name is yana.i'm 16 years old girl and i 'm a student. so i was interseted to know more about how the people who have hiv are survive. finally i realized that they live just the normal people!! i"ll like to motivated them to never disappionted or give up for the rest in thier lives:-)
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Comment by: immanuel (zaria, Nigeria) Fri., Jun. 3, 2011 at 5:40 am UTC
am an undergraduate of political science, what i ask is what is the ngo' and other international organizations doing about the high rate of hiv/aids on campuses in africa especially nigeria?Cos most of us just see hiv/aids as a deadly illness. a campaign sould be carried on the campuses where ladies and guys from the age of 18-29 are and are prune to being infected
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Comment by: toad (ireland) Mon., May. 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm UTC
its' refreshing to read from your story that one can be accepted for who she is rather than HIV status.
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Comment by: entle (umzimkhulu) Sat., Apr. 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm UTC
i an hiv positive boy this is our second year dating i love so problem is i have been testing negative the whole of last year an this year too i even did elisa test still negative im now pregnant with his baby i know you might say im stupid but i wanted to give him a child since he doesn't have one &he's always wanting to have one but because of his status he lost hope.will our baby be ok?cause im not taking anything for hiv since im being negative.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Jane (Florida) Tue., Aug. 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm UTC
Your baby will be fine. The virus is transmitted from mother to baby. The father has nothing to do with it. The only way the baby will be at risk is if you become infected by your boyfriend while you're still pregnant. So stay safe and good luck!

Comment by: Petana P (Kgn Jamaica) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm UTC
awwwesomme. I admire your strength and determination. All the best!
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Comment by: Tamia (South Africa ) Fri., Mar. 25, 2011 at 2:19 am UTC
Hey there, reading through your storie you made me cry, what a lovely storie. I also HIV positive with gals from the pevious relationship and my husban want us to have our own baby, but I am so scared that I won't see my baby growing, but just after reading this article you have made me realise that all things are possible in god. Good luck my darling and keep strong.
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