As informed to Aviva Patz
September 18, 2022, is Countrywide HIV/AIDS and Aging Consciousness Day.
It’s hard to imagine that HIV could be a blessing, but for me, it was.
That’s since it gave me a likelihood to alter my existence.
Just after possessing been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran away from household at 13 only to be placed in the foster care program, wherever I was sexually abused all over again. By the time I was diagnosed with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I was living on the streets of Miami, courting the leader of a violent street gang and committing crimes myself, which include armed robbery. I was full of anger and self-hatred.
Ironically, my HIV prognosis came just when I was attempting to change my lifetime close to. I’d remaining the gang when I was 17 and moved back in with my mom, even nevertheless she made it very clear that she did not want me there because she thought I was a troublemaker. Finally, I instructed her I desired to go to Career Corps, a vocational college for teens in hassle. I believed it was my chance to verify that I was worthy.
I wasn’t unwell at all, but at Work Corps, they did plan blood function on new pupils to check for pregnancy and other circumstances. On Television, you only saw homosexual white guys from San Francisco with HIV. In no way in my lifetime did I assume I would be instructed I was HIV favourable.
The physician who diagnosed me had no compassion. He just blurted out, “You have AIDS.” It was horrible. He did not give me a pamphlet or nearly anything. But I did not cry. I just place my head down and considered, I’m never ever going to get married, never ever going to have children. Again then, HIV was a death sentence.
I occur from a great spouse and children, a conservative Catholic spouse and children from Colombia. And, the Latinx neighborhood is like, “Don’t inquire, don’t inform,” so my mom sat me down and mentioned, “We cannot tell any person in the loved ones or close friends. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I had to retain my HIV standing a solution.
At the time, the only remedy readily available was a most cancers medicine termed AZT. They instructed me in the clinic that I could get on AZT, but I would have to signal a waiver acknowledging that it could damage my internal organs. I explained, “Nope, I’m not having that.”
After many years devoid of treatment method, my T cells went down to 39 — the typical array is 500 to 1,400 per cubic millimeter of blood. I knew I could keep on dying or begin healthcare remedy.
I selected to stay.
At Jackson Memorial Clinic in Miami, where I was addressed, I begun going to instructional classes in specific immunology. I went two hours a working day, and I acquired so much. I was incredibly talkative in these lessons, and just about every time I spoke, people listened. The directors approached me and requested if I’d like to be a peer educator. They said, “You assisted so many people today now.”
I got qualified by the wellness department to counsel minorities — not only Latinx persons but also the African American and LGBTQ communities and immigrants.
Maria Mejia talking to associates of Congress
I under no circumstances intended to turn out to be an activist, but which is where I landed. These times, I aid move laws for the HIV community. And I’m a world-wide ambassador, neighborhood advisory board member and A Female Like Me blogger for The Effectively Challenge, a nonprofit corporation supplying information, guidance and equipment to females and women with HIV/AIDS.
I have launched online assistance groups with 40,000 members, in English and Spanish. We have men and women from tribes in Africa all the way to Patagonia in South America. I contact myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my center identify. I don’t care — which is how I catch the attention of folks.
I lead by instance, and I combat stigma by humanizing the ailment. I’m a very long-phrase survivor who is not only surviving but thriving. I’m one of the most noticeable faces of HIV in the entire world, and I display that persons with HIV can like, get married and have small children. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I never regret that I obtained HIV since, ironically, it saved my existence.
It’s served me grow in so a lot of means: I’ve learned to like myself and get treatment of myself and to be extra compassionate and spiritual. And, most effective of all, it’s made my goal distinct to me. I have satisfied so lots of people today who have been by means of a large amount, and alongside one another we’ve saved so several life. In aiding other folks, I’ve found I also assistance myself.