As told to Aviva Patz
September 18, 2022, is Countrywide HIV/AIDS and Growing older Consciousness Day.
It is tough to consider that HIV could be a blessing, but for me, it was.
That is due to the fact it gave me a probability to adjust my life.
Following obtaining been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran away from dwelling at 13 only to be put in the foster care program, exactly where I was sexually abused once more. By the time I was identified with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I was residing on the streets of Miami, dating the leader of a violent street gang and committing crimes myself, which includes armed theft. I was comprehensive of anger and self-hatred.
Ironically, my HIV analysis came just when I was making an attempt to transform my lifetime close to. I’d left the gang when I was 17 and moved back again in with my mother, even even though she manufactured it clear that she didn’t want me there due to the fact she considered I was a troublemaker. Finally, I instructed her I desired to go to Work Corps, a vocational university for teens in problems. I thought it was my opportunity to demonstrate that I was worthy.
I wasn’t sick at all, but at Position Corps, they did routine blood do the job on new pupils to check for pregnancy and other circumstances. On Television, you only observed gay white males from San Francisco with HIV. Never in my everyday living did I imagine I would be told I was HIV favourable.
The health care provider who diagnosed me experienced no compassion. He just blurted out, “You have AIDS.” It was awful. He didn’t give me a pamphlet or anything. But I did not cry. I just put my head down and believed, I’m by no means heading to get married, never going to have children. Again then, HIV was a dying sentence.
I come from a excellent family, a conservative Catholic family from Colombia. And, the Latinx group is like, “Don’t check with, do not convey to,” so my mom sat me down and stated, “We cannot inform everyone in the household or close friends. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I experienced to preserve my HIV standing a mystery.
At the time, the only procedure readily available was a cancer treatment named AZT. They advised me in the clinic that I could get on AZT, but I would have to indicator a waiver acknowledging that it could harm my interior organs. I stated, “Nope, I’m not getting that.”
Immediately after a long time without the need of treatment method, my T cells went down to 39 — the normal array is 500 to 1,400 for each cubic millimeter of blood. I understood I could carry on dying or commence health care cure.
I selected to dwell.
At Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, in which I was handled, I begun likely to educational classes in specific immunology. I went two several hours a working day, and I learned so much. I was pretty talkative in these classes, and each individual time I spoke, individuals listened. The directors approached me and requested if I’d like to be a peer educator. They said, “You assisted so a lot of men and women by now.”
I received properly trained by the health division to counsel minorities — not only Latinx folks but also the African American and LGBTQ communities and immigrants.
Maria Mejia speaking to customers of Congress
I never intended to turn into an activist, but that’s where by I landed. These times, I help go laws for the HIV group. And I’m a global ambassador, local community advisory board member and A Female Like Me blogger for The Nicely Venture, a nonprofit corporation giving facts, assist and equipment to women of all ages and girls with HIV/AIDS.
I’ve started on the internet support teams with 40,000 associates, in English and Spanish. We have men and women from tribes in Africa all the way to Patagonia in South America. I call myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my middle name. I never care — that’s how I catch the attention of people today.
I direct by instance, and I struggle stigma by humanizing the problem. I’m a long-term survivor who is not only surviving but flourishing. I’m a single of the most noticeable faces of HIV in the planet, and I clearly show that individuals with HIV can enjoy, get married and have small children. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I do not regret that I got HIV for the reason that, ironically, it saved my lifestyle.
It’s assisted me improve in so many means: I have discovered to love myself and just take treatment of myself and to be far more compassionate and non secular. And, ideal of all, it is manufactured my reason distinct to me. I’ve fulfilled so several people today who have been by way of a large amount, and alongside one another we’ve saved so many lives. In encouraging some others, I’ve observed I also help myself.