As advised to Aviva Patz
September 18, 2022, is Countrywide HIV/AIDS and Ageing Recognition Working day.
It is really hard to believe that HIV could be a blessing, but for me, it was.
Which is for the reason that it gave me a prospect to change my lifestyle.
Following possessing been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran away from property at 13 only to be put in the foster treatment system, in which I was sexually abused all over again. By the time I was diagnosed with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I was dwelling on the streets of Miami, relationship the leader of a violent street gang and committing crimes myself, which include armed theft. I was total of anger and self-hatred.
Ironically, my HIV prognosis arrived just when I was hoping to switch my life around. I’d left the gang when I was 17 and moved again in with my mom, even although she designed it apparent that she did not want me there for the reason that she considered I was a troublemaker. Sooner or later, I explained to her I wished to go to Work Corps, a vocational faculty for teenagers in hassle. I thought it was my chance to confirm that I was deserving.
I wasn’t ill at all, but at Career Corps, they did routine blood operate on new pupils to take a look at for pregnancy and other situations. On Television, you only observed homosexual white males from San Francisco with HIV. Never ever in my life did I think I would be instructed I was HIV positive.
The medical doctor who identified me experienced no compassion. He just blurted out, “You have AIDS.” It was awful. He didn’t give me a pamphlet or nearly anything. But I didn’t cry. I just set my head down and thought, I’m never ever going to get married, in no way likely to have little ones. Back again then, HIV was a demise sentence.
I arrive from a superior family members, a conservative Catholic household from Colombia. And, the Latinx local community is like, “Don’t ask, really don’t explain to,” so my mother sat me down and reported, “We cannot notify any individual in the spouse and children or buddies. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I experienced to retain my HIV position a solution.
At the time, the only therapy obtainable was a most cancers treatment referred to as AZT. They informed me in the clinic that I could get on AZT, but I would have to signal a waiver acknowledging that it could injury my inner organs. I explained, “Nope, I’m not having that.”
After several years with no procedure, my T cells went down to 39 — the typical variety is 500 to 1,400 per cubic millimeter of blood. I knew I could continue on dying or begin healthcare treatment method.
I chose to are living.
At Jackson Memorial Healthcare facility in Miami, where by I was handled, I started likely to academic lessons in special immunology. I went two hrs a day, and I figured out so significantly. I was really talkative in these classes, and each time I spoke, persons listened. The directors approached me and asked if I’d like to be a peer educator. They said, “You aided so a lot of folks by now.”
I obtained skilled by the overall health division 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 never intended to become an activist, but that’s where by I landed. These times, I assist pass legislation for the HIV neighborhood. And I’m a world-wide ambassador, neighborhood advisory board member and A Female Like Me blogger for The Nicely Project, a nonprofit group giving information and facts, assistance and applications to ladies and ladies with HIV/AIDS.
I have launched on the web aid groups with 40,000 customers, in English and Spanish. We have folks from tribes in Africa all the way to Patagonia in South The usa. I phone myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my middle identify. I never care — that’s how I entice people today.
I lead by instance, and I fight stigma by humanizing the affliction. I’m a very long-phrase survivor who is not only surviving but thriving. I’m 1 of the most noticeable faces of HIV in the earth, and I display that men and women with HIV can love, get married and have young children. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I never regret that I bought HIV since, ironically, it saved my lifetime.
It’s served me improve in so a lot of ways: I have discovered to appreciate myself and choose treatment of myself and to be far more compassionate and spiritual. And, best of all, it’s made my intent very clear to me. I’ve satisfied so numerous persons who have been as a result of a great deal, and jointly we’ve saved so lots of life. In supporting other individuals, I have located I also help myself.