Living with HIV
Below you will find the stories of actual Memphis-area residents living with HIV. Their stories vary, but their message is shared: If you have HIV/AIDS, seek medical care and continue your treatment. If you do, you can live a long, healthy and productive life.
Xavier thought his life was over when he learned he was HIV-positive at age 19. The Memphis Ryan White Program helped Xavier better understand his diagnosis and empowered him to pursue his goals while helping raise awareness about HIV prevention and treatment in the community. Xavier shares his story with friends, family and co-workers to combat the myth that HIV is a death sentence. Whenever he tells people he is HIV-positive, they are amazed at what he has been able to accomplish with his positive outlook on life.
Xavier’s community involvement echoes his desire to encourage others to learn more about HIV/AIDS. Xavier is active with the AIDS Community Advisory Board at St. Jude’s, attended the U.S. Conference on AIDS and has canvassed college campuses to promote HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. A self-described workaholic, Xavier juggles college classes and long shifts at his job sometimes up to 60 hours a week on top of school. Since his employer does not provide insurance, Xavier relies on the Memphis Ryan White Program for help with his medical costs, so he can manage his HIV and focus on his career.
“Your diagnosis does not have to be the end. Your life is not over, and you can still walk with your head held high. Your future is still bright, and you can still accomplish your dreams.”
Xavier, HIV activist and staffing coordinator
Living with HIV for 4 years
During her pregnancy, Sienna was tested for HIV during her routine maternal care. She has been a proponent of getting tested for HIV, and just months prior to her pregnancy, she tested negative for HIV. However, this time her results came back positive. Sienna began treatment immediately, to protect herself and her baby, who was later born HIV-negative.
Upon receiving her diagnosis, Sienna began living a double life. She told only her immediate family about her condition, and hid medication bottles when friends came over. When she attended the U.S. Conference on AIDS in 2011, Sienna connected with a speaker’s message, and she realized she had a responsibility to share her unique story since she does not fit into any stereotype associated with people living with HIV.
The Memphis Ryan White Program provides Sienna with a community of emotional support and an avenue for sharing her story.
“I had been tested as recently as August 2010 before being positively diagnosed in February 2011. It can happen that quickly, because it just takes one time with one person.”
Sienna, mother and sales associate
Living with HIV for 2 years
Born with HIV, Sharmain never knew what life without the virus would be like. She has been a patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital since her first birthday. Thankfully, the Memphis Ryan White Program has been there along the way to help. Through the program’s assistance, she has insurance and is able to cover the cost of her medication.
Though Sharmain never tried to hide her HIV, she quickly realized that others were not so accepting, and she learned what it meant to live with a stigma.
Despite the negative associations tied to HIV, Sharmain feels compelled to share her story. She now speaks at Memphis schools, where she stresses the importance of educating oneself about HIV, practicing prevention, and if diagnosed with HIV, receiving proper treatment.
Thanks to regular treatment throughout her life, Sharmain’s HIV/AIDS status is currently nondetected, and she has been able to be off her medication for almost a year.
“HIV/AIDS is real. But it’s not the end of the world.”
–Sharmain, student and HIV advocate
Living with HIV since birth
Alfred was diagnosed with HIV after being tested while in the hospital. Despite immediately seeking treatment, he lost his job and proceeded with legal action against his former employer. Alfred was introduced to the Ryan White Program through a reporter covering his story. Since then, he has received prescription assistance, access to doctors and dental care.
“I believe it only takes one person to make a change. If I can reach one person, I believe I helped save a life. When I found out I had HIV, I told my family and friends. I am pleased to say they are 100 percent supportive. I want to make a change that HIV-positive people are survivors.”
–Alfred, digital magazine publisher
Living with HIV for two years
After noticing a change in his normal behavior, friends and family urged Craig to see a doctor, which resulted in his being diagnosed with HIV. Craig sought treatment because his family stressed the importance of it. Through the Ryan White Program, Craig received dental assistance and housing, and he and his family better understand what it means to live with HIV.
“I want to be an advocate for others. A mentor, a teacher and a friend for anyone who cares to know more about this disease. Get tested. Get treated. Get educated. Get involved.”
–Craig, model and vocalist
Living with HIV for seven years
After being sexually assaulted, Nicole was diagnosed with HIV. Initially in denial, she did not seek treatment for six months. Nicole was introduced to the Ryan White Program through an HIV-positive friend and, because of the program, was able to cope with her diagnosis while receiving HIV prescription help. In addition to financial assistance, the Ryan White Program covers her regular doctor and counselor visits.
“Immediately seek treatment – spiritually and physically.”
Nicole, business owner
Living with HIV for 13 years
Keith knew he was sick, but he had no idea how sick he really was, or what was causing it. After experiencing prolonged symptoms, he took an HIV test and it came back positive. Without insurance and unable to afford his prescriptions, Keith grew sicker. Luckily, he discovered the Shelby County Ryan White Program, and with its help he now receives prescription assistance, free doctor visits, dental and eye care services, and meal plans. Since receiving assisted care, Keith has been able to keep his HIV under control.
“Not being sick is my motivation for taking medications. I didn’t follow instructions early in my diagnosis and got even sicker because of it, so I’m avoiding that now.”
–Keith, HIV advocate
Living with HIV for 13 Years
Frederick discovered he was HIV-infected while married and expecting his second child. He educated himself immediately, although he did not want to accept his diagnosis. Once Frederick started treatment, he told his family about his status, and helped educate them to understand what he was going through. The Ryan White Program provides Frederick valuable assistance with medication, dental care and transportation. Today, Frederick travels throughout the Tri-Cities region encouraging teenagers to get tested and those living with HIV to get treatment.
“If the Ryan White Program didn’t exist, I would have been dead long ago. Ryan White is the best program for us who don’t have insurance. With Ryan White, we who are living with this disease can live a happy and normal life.”
–Frederick, HIV educator
Living with HIV for 19 years
Patrice’s first HIV test during her pregnancy came back negative. Though she was relieved, something didn’t feel right. Sure enough, when her son was born a few months later, the doctor confirmed her fear: She was HIV-positive.
Patrice became so depressed that she couldn’t even bring herself to go to work. She shut down and became homeless.
After two years of struggling with her diagnosis, Patrice heard about the Memphis TGA Ryan White Program. Through the Ryan White Program, she received counseling, medical support and assistance from the food pantry at Friends For Life. For the first time, she felt she could manage her illness. Now, 19 years later, she’s a mother of five HIV-free children, and she actively shares her story as an encouragement to other young women and others diagnosed with HIV.
“If I had waited any longer to seek treatment, I wouldn’t be 42 and alive today. I didn’t know I could live with this diagnosis. I have HIV. It doesn’t have me. If you are diagnosed with HIV, my advice is to look for resources like Ryan White to give you counseling. Find somebody that knows about HIV and take your meds.”
– Patrice, HIV advocate
Living with HIV for 19 years
While in the hospital after experiencing medical complications, Elizabeth found out she was HIV-positive. Elizabeth credits her four children as the reason she sought treatment. Since her diagnosis, she has become active in the community and spread the word among Memphis youth about HIV/AIDS. Elizabeth accessed emotional support and HIV prescription assistance through the Ryan White Program.
“It [HIV] is out there, but there is medication and you can live with HIV. Just take care of yourself. Don’t make the mistake of not knowing; find out your status now.”
Living with HIV for two years
Joe was diagnosed with HIV three months after an initial test came back negative. He immediately sought treatment and received information from the local health department about the Ryan White Program. He has accessed transportation and meal preparation assistance, in addition to help with HIV prescriptions.
“I am still alive due to the assistance I have received through the years from Ryan White [Program] funds. I am able to eat a more balanced meal due to the assistance that I receive from [those] funds. I receive support through a medical case manager, and assistance with my private insurance costs, through Ryan White [Program] funds.”
–Joe, HIV advocate
Living with HIV for 14 years
Monica discovered she was HIV-positive through a health care screening she took while applying for life insurance. Initially shocked, and doubting the results, she sought confirmation and then immediately began seeking treatment. After Monica moved to the Memphis area, her aunt told her about the Ryan White Program, and the benefits she could receive to help her quality of life. Through the Ryan White Program, Monica has received dental care, eye care, mental health care and many other services related to her HIV care plan.
“HIV is only a part of who I am. I see myself as an awesome prayer warrior, good cook, exceptional mom, gracious sister, intelligent, and above all compassionate.”
–Monica, peer mentor
Living with HIV for nine years