Changing the face of HIV: One woman’s journey

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Maria MejiaIn a world full of hate and blame, an occasional seed of hope flowers. One Miami woman is spreading some of that very hope. Through her story Maria Mejia is opening the eyes of the ignorant and hateful. By exposing her own pain she is enabling young and old to see HIV/AIDS positive people in a totally different light. From teenage runaway to advocate, she has found a way to change her world while attempting to change ours.

Changing Face of HIV PosterMaria, a 37-year-old woman born in Colombia, ran away at just 13 years old to join a gang that ultimately became her family. Maria soon found herself immersed in a lifestyle that proved more dangerous than she had ever expected. In 1991, at 18, she received devastating news after all the students at a Job Corps in Kentucky were HIV tested. She was positive. Her suspicions were that the virus was most likely linked to a young man in the gang she was involved with at age 16; her first boyfriend.

For the first 10 years Maria denied the conventional HIV treatment of taking AZT and opted instead for natural alternatives and stress-relief methods to boost her immunity. Her mother became a vital pillar of emotional stability, yet she encouraged her daughter to keep her illness a secret. Maria spent much of the past giving into the stigma and lying about her condition to most people. As her denial lessened, disease progressed and knowledge flourished, she eventually decided to incorporate a prescription regimen in her routine and adopt a new outlook on her well-being.

For Maria and her family, the road has been long: coming to terms with the disease and acceptance, as well as overcoming addiction to prescription pain medication and depressed thoughts about her future. Today looks very different. Medicated properly and seeing results, Maria is not only healthier, she has also found love. The past four years has been spent with her new partner, Lisa, who has encouraged her, inspired her and supported her endeavor to change the way HIV/AIDS positive people are perceived.

Now 20 years into her disease, Maria still fights the daily physical and mental challenges of her HIV. However, she also now fights it through advocacy and education. In her work as a peer educator, outreach consultant, and pre- and post-test counselor, she speaks out to groups, in schools and through the media, especially supporting the Hispanic and LGBT communities. Her mission is to help reverse the negativity associated with the disease; to show people that the disease is ugly, not the person who contracts it.

“People who are clean, beautiful, professionals, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons… Anyone can have or get HIV! So next time you are going to have unprotected sex think of me… What does HIV really look like? Answer: Anyone.” She brings to light the fact that HIV/AIDS is everyone’s illness. She puts a face to the disease, one that many would not typically associate with the stereotype. Her face is that of reality, not of perception.

See Maria’s blog at http://www.girllikeme.org/author/mariateresa1111/

 

Maria MejiaIn a world full of hate and blame, an occasional seed of hope flowers. One Miami woman is spreading some of that very hope. Through her story Maria Mejia is opening the eyes of the ignorant and hateful. By exposing her own pain she is enabling young and old to see HIV/AIDS positive people in a totally different light. From teenage runaway to advocate, she has found a way to change her world while attempting to change ours.