As explained to to Aviva Patz
September 18, 2022, is Countrywide HIV/AIDS and Growing old Recognition Working day.
It is challenging to imagine that HIV could be a blessing, but for me, it was.
Which is simply because it gave me a likelihood to transform my lifestyle.
Right after possessing been sexually abused by my uncle and emotionally abused by my father, I ran absent from home at 13 only to be positioned in the foster care system, wherever I was sexually abused once more. By the time I was diagnosed with HIV at age 18 in 1991, I was living on the streets of Miami, relationship the leader of a violent street gang and committing crimes myself, which includes armed robbery. I was comprehensive of anger and self-hatred.
Ironically, my HIV diagnosis came just when I was striving to transform my existence all-around. I’d remaining the gang when I was 17 and moved back again in with my mom, even though she manufactured it crystal clear that she didn’t want me there mainly because she thought I was a troublemaker. Finally, I told her I preferred to go to Work Corps, a vocational school for teenagers in difficulties. I considered it was my chance to verify that I was deserving.
I was not ill at all, but at Position Corps, they did program blood get the job done on new learners to exam for pregnancy and other conditions. On Tv, you only observed homosexual white adult men from San Francisco with HIV. Hardly ever in my lifetime did I feel I would be informed I was HIV favourable.
The health care provider who identified me had no compassion. He just blurted out, “You have AIDS.” It was terrible. He didn’t give me a pamphlet or anything at all. But I did not cry. I just set my head down and imagined, I’m in no way heading to get married, in no way likely to have children. Again then, HIV was a death sentence.
I arrive from a fantastic relatives, a conservative Catholic family from Colombia. And, the Latinx local community is like, “Don’t question, do not inform,” so my mom sat me down and stated, “We just can’t convey to any person in the family members or mates. They’re ignorant. They’ll discriminate.” So I felt I had to preserve my HIV status a secret.
At the time, the only cure readily available was a cancer medication named AZT. They informed me in the clinic that I could get on AZT, but I would have to sign a waiver acknowledging that it could problems my inside organs. I explained, “Nope, I’m not having that.”
Immediately after years devoid of procedure, my T cells went down to 39 — the typical variety is 500 to 1,400 for every cubic millimeter of blood. I knew I could proceed dying or start off health-related remedy.
I selected to reside.
At Jackson Memorial Medical center in Miami, where I was dealt with, I begun likely to academic lessons in distinctive immunology. I went two hours a day, and I discovered so significantly. I was really talkative in these lessons, and each time I spoke, men and women listened. The directors approached me and asked if I’d like to be a peer educator. They reported, “You assisted so numerous people today currently.”
I obtained trained by the health office to counsel minorities — not only Latinx folks but also the African American and LGBTQ communities and immigrants.
Maria Mejia speaking to members of Congress
I hardly ever meant to turn out to be an activist, but which is wherever I landed. These days, I assist go legislation for the HIV group. And I’m a world ambassador, local community advisory board member and A Woman Like Me blogger for The Effectively Challenge, a nonprofit business giving information, guidance and applications to girls and women with HIV/AIDS.
I have launched on the net help teams with 40,000 customers, in English and Spanish. We have people from tribes in Africa all the way to Patagonia in South America. I connect with myself Maria HIV with “HIV” as my middle name. I never treatment — that is how I entice folks.
I guide by example, and I combat stigma by humanizing the situation. I’m a very long-time period survivor who is not only surviving but flourishing. I’m a single of the most seen faces of HIV in the entire world, and I exhibit that men and women with HIV can really like, get married and have kids. I give hope to the hopeless. And, I really do not regret that I got HIV since, ironically, it saved my life.
It is assisted me expand in so several ways: I’ve learned to really like myself and consider treatment of myself and to be more compassionate and non secular. And, most effective of all, it’s designed my reason obvious to me. I have achieved so a lot of men and women who have been by way of a good deal, and together we’ve saved so lots of lives. In helping other folks, I have observed I also assist myself.