My name is Terry D. Johnson. Iím a 43-year-old African-American MSM, and Iíve been living with HIV for 12 years.
I tested positive for HIV in June 1994, at the Montgomery Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). I had made the rank of SGT/E-5 in the U.S. Army. I completed a very stressful tour in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. My previous HIV test had been in November, 1991, and it was negative. Reckless behavior and substance abuse led me to contract HIV and Hepatitis between the two tests. I only had two sexual partners during that time, but the choice not to use protection resulted in infection.
I was not shocked by my diagnosis, and I did not have time to process it. My younger brother, Randall Johnson, was in the last stages of AIDS, on his death bed, and I was a primary caregiver. He passed away in December, 1994. I made a vow to learn from that experience and empower myself through education to help myself and others suffering from the disease, but I did eventually slip into depression.
I was always told that it might not be the HIV that kills me: it might be the Hepatitis C, if it goes untreated. For years I only focused on my HIV treatment, rarely monitoring or even mentioning the Hep C. In 2002, I begin Hepatitis C treatment which consisted of a once-a-week injection of PEG Intron and daily Rebetrol tablets for 48 weeks. For three years now, I have been undetectable.
Still, my depression went deeper than the Monday morning blues. I needed help dealing with some major life issues, such as testing HIV-positive, my brotherís death, my hepatitis C, and my addiction problem. Through medication, counseling, therapy, and support groups I was able to surrender to what I really needed to do and feel.
I started to work at Birmingham AIDS Outreach as a Case Manager in January 2003, providing medication assistance, food, clothing, nutritional supplements and emergency financial assistance for medically necessary items under Ryan White Federal Funds. I enjoyed that, but it was not enough for me. I wanted to do Prevention & Education and Community Outreach. In August, 2003, I took over the Brother-to-Brother Program, which is a Secondary HIV Prevention program for MSM. The Brother-to-Brother program offers preventive case management, HIV counseling, and HIV education to the consumer. It also provides emotional support, social activities and consumer advocacy.
Now, I work with HIV/AIDS in three different capacities on a daily basis. I started the HOPE Project, a faith-based HIV/AIDS ministry-program at Covenant Community Church. I am the Project Coordinator. This is an affirming church with the congregation being 85% GLBT, so the primary target population for this initiative is the GLBT community. I provide HIV Counseling, HIV education and HIV testing. I do not duplicate services that already exist, I just fill in the gaps.
I am a contracted employee with the Alabama Department of Public Health, HIV/AIDS Division, working as a State Peer Mentor. My job consists of identifying high risk negative individuals and getting them tested for HIV. I do monthly presentations at half-way houses and transitional living facilities. I locate positive persons who have stopped medical care and work with them to reconnect to medical care and other HIV services. I work with newly released inmates, assisting with transitional services, such as housing, medical, legal and transportation.
I continue to facilitate the Brother-to-Brother Support Group weekly meetings.
I receive my own medical care through the Birmingham V.A. Medical, which happens to be the largest single provider of HIV/AIDS care in this country. I have been on three cocktails, a total of nine medicines, and have been on a drug holiday for three years. My T-cell counts always run around 700 off medication, over 1000 on medication, with a very low viral load. I recently completed a study at the famous University of Alabama at Birmingham 1917 HIV/AIDS research clinic that indicated that I am a slow progressor.
Through a healthy diet, exercise, a positive attitude and education, I have lived this long with HIV and never had a sick day. I have a positive outlook for the future and my message is a message of Hope.
If you are newly diagnosed with HIV, my advice is to educate yourself. Learn as much you can about HIV. Get out and get involved. Take care of yourself, and live life to the fullest.
I believe in an attitude of empowerment versus entitlement. People who have a positive outlook are the ones who do well. Mingle, get in support groups, get involved, and you will flourish. Make up your mind that youíre going to live with HIV - not die with AIDS!
Copyright 2014, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!