AnnMarie is a wife, a mother, and a woman living with HIV.
As this quiet and gentle young woman tells her story, you feel the emotion…
In high school, she fell in love with a boy. 20 years ago she was in high school, she didn’t know she could be at risk for HIV. She wasn’t a gay man. She didn’t do drugs. She was a young woman and she was in love with one person. Her boyfriend, her first love, was a hemophiliac and required blood products.
As first loves often do, the relationship ended.
Eventually, AnnMarie met another man and fell in love. She got married, had children, and her family was going to live happily ever after.
AnnMarie had told her husband that she had been with a man who was a hemophiliac. She and her husband had discussed it and decided that they should get tested, just to be on the safe side, but really why should they worry?
When AnnMarie became pregnant with her first child, she and her husband discussed getting tested again—but there was always something else to do and it wasn’t really all that necessary. AnnMarie had another child a few years later. Again, the same conversation, but by this time it had been so many years and she seemed perfectly healthy. AnnMarie and her husband spent time building their family and caring for their babies.
A few years later, AnnMarie became very sick with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. The doctors diagnosed her with PCP pneumonia, but they KNEW she couldn’t have AIDS. She was a housewife with two kids. How could she have HIV?
After a number of tests, a doctor walked in and told her that she had AIDS and then left.
Her husband and children were tested for HIV, and they learned that her husband and one of her two children were HIV-positive. Fortunately, her youngest child somehow miraculously was born without being infected with the virus.
Her in-laws blamed AnnMarie. She blamed herself. She couldn’t eat with the rest of the family; all of the dishes that she used where either thrown away or washed with bleach.
She was miserable, and eventually had to leave her family again because of the stress of being blamed. The virus and the shame were taking a toll on her health. She went to live in public housing, but still the virus’ impact on her fragile body continued.
She was very sick, hospitalized, alone, and possibly on the verge of death. In the depths of her darkness, two miracles happened. She was referred to Dr. Kevin Carmichael, a doctor who specialized in HIV, a caring compassionate man with a great bedside manner who assured her that he was going to do anything he could to take care of her and keep her alive.
And he helped bring into her life the second miracle: he connected AnnMarie with TIHAN, a program that assigned her a CareTeam, a group of volunteers from various congregations to support her. These CareTeam volunteers took turns visiting her in the hospital. She was astounded that they wanted to spend time with her, that they weren’t afraid to hug her. This group of strangers was willing to sit with her for hours when her own family couldn’t and wouldn’t.
“I had no reason to go on. I had AIDS. I had lost my husband, my children, my family. The only thing that kept me going was the TIHAN CareTeam. These people weren’t afraid of me; they offered unconditional love and support. When I was so sick, the only thing I could do is crawl from my bed to the bathroom. But every day I would get a call from a member of my CareTeam, checking in on me, encouraging me. That CareTeam is what kept me alive.”
With the support of her doctor and her CareTeam, AnnMarie survived. With time, her family adjusted to their new reality and reconciled. With education, peer support, and new medications that increased the life expectancy of people living with HIV, AnnMarie and her family have managed to live a life that they try hard to keep as “normal” as possible.
As she and her family have learned to live with HIV and let those they care about know and learn about this disease, they have received love and support from their family and neighbors.
This is AnnMarie’s story. It is a story that she tells as she speaks in front of groups of young people, reminding them that even a beautiful young girl with one boyfriend is not immune. It is a story that she tells to groups of new volunteers who are being trained by TIHAN, telling them how one person, one simple hospital visit, one phone call or card, can give someone that message that they are still worthy, that there is still hope, and that no one has to be alone.
Sometimes, as this quiet, gentle woman tells her story, her eyes well up with tears. Inevitably, as people hear her story, their eyes well up too.
AnnMarie’s courage in sharing her story moves people. She moves people to action. Won’t you act now and help TIHAN continue to be a lifeline?
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