Sam Knode was born in 1990 in Virginia Beach, Virginia to a military family that was also “Very Baptist,” as Sam described it. As is typical for most military families, the Knodes moved around with their father as he was transferred. When Sam was 12, the family finally settled in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area.
Sam said, “I was always close to my mother but not real close to my dad just because he was always gone while I was growing up. I came out to my mom when I was 16 and she was understanding.”
His world was shaken up when he was just 17 and his mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away very quickly after the diagnosis. Sam said, “I kind of did my own thing after my mom passed. I went to online hook up sites and things like that.”
Sam had been home schooled his entire life by his mom. When she passed away, he had to attend public school for his senior year of high school. “Being home schooled, I didn’t have a lot of experience with relationships and no sex-ed. at all.
“When I was 18, I started dating a guy and it lasted 17-months. He left and being inexperienced…it was my first relationship, I didn’t really know what to think about that,” Sam said.
At the same time, Sam had a job at a firehouse in his hometown. He said, “A guy at the firehouse said ‘Sam you don’t look very good.’ I had lost 25-pounds, so I went to see a doctor. I went to the doctor on January 10th , 2010 and found out I was positive on the 13th. The doctor gave me the news, gave me a bible and walked out. He was a family friend and didn’t agree with the lifestyle. There was no encouragement and no education.”
For the next 2-weeks, Sam looked around for information on the Internet. “Most of the information I found referenced back to the 80’s when there was no hope” he said.
During this time he said, “Suicide did cross my mind and so did just giving up. But I decided I wasn’t going to listen to what everyone said. Life is like a mountain you’re trying to climb. As long as you’re looking up, you’re going to move forward. HIV is a part of my life but it doesn’t define my life.”
Sam went to see a specialist and was on meds in 2-months. In 6-months, he was undetectable. He quit his job and went to school. He said, “My goal was that I wanted to help people. I went to school to become a paramedic in Virginia. I graduated in a 6-month accelerated program that otherwise took about 2-years.”
Sam also became involved in the Health Options and Positive Energy foundation of Washington D.C. (HOPE D.C.) an all-volunteer organization that serves the HIV positive community in the Washington, D.C. area. He took advantage of their peer-to-peer contact, counseling and discussions.
Sam now works at a firehouse in Northern Virginia as a paramedic. He said, “I’ve been at the firehouse for 3-years now. I came out a year ago. The guys here always have my back; they’re a second family. In a firehouse, it’s like a family. I work 48-hour shifts so I actually see more of them than my real family.”
He also continues to be active with HOPE D.C. “Anytime I have questions, I know I can go there and find an answer,” Sam says.
Sam’s advice to someone newly diagnosed is, “It’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it ruin your life. Find somebody your own age that is positive or find a mentor. You need support. I went 1-year without support and I was miserable.”
Sam has a tattoo on his back that says, “What does not kill me, only makes me stronger.” That seems to sum up his philosophy about living with HIV.
Sam’s future plans are to go back to school and get a Bachelor’s Degree in Emergency Management and a Nursing Degree. He said, “I work in a field where I can go anywhere. I’d like to be a boss at work.”
If you would like to see more positive thinking and inspirational stories like Sam’s, please go to our website at www.hivpositivemagazine.com or link to www.hivpositivemagazine.com/profiles.html. There’s also a Facebook page resource administered by Kevin Maloney and part of his “No Shame About Being HIV+” campaign called “Rise Up To HIV” and linked at www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.615445198516292.1073741837.191006750960141&type=3. You'll find many more stories there.
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