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Nov 27, 2014

Healthy Living Speaks With Persons Living With HIV

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Surely you have either told or been told these very words as a means of comfort. Originally penned by German philosopher, Fredrick Nietzsche, this one phrase is used to comfort people all over the world, people overcoming all different circumstances. Tonight on Healthy Living, we’ll introduce you to two persons, who embody this very statement.  Diagnosed with a disease – that many wrongly call deadly – Eric and Adi chose to live. In commemoration of the upcoming World AIDS day, we’ll introduce you to the lives of these two Belizean advocates – who just happen to also have HIV.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Eric Castellanos has been living with HIV for almost twenty years.

 

Eric Castellanos, Living with HIV, Founding Member CNET+
“I was diagnosed on the twenty-fourth of December 1995. I wanted to get tested because I knew I had been in a risky relationship.  My partner was HIV positive. I got my results that date on the twenty-fourth of December and even though I thought I was prepared for the result—I tried to prepare myself mentally—it was a shock anyway.”

 

Eric Castellanos

At the time of his diagnosis, it was just over a decade since the HIV and AIDS epidemic had first started; and, medication was not yet available.

 

Eric Castellanos

“Life expectancy was like a few months, two to six months, at the beginning of the epidemic especially since no medication was available. I started treatment in the year 2000 and at that time, and this is something that I always share with people, when they go to treatment and they think it’s a burden to take two to three pills or sometimes one pill a day; I use to take eighteen pills—capsules and tablets—every eight hours only for HIV, plus other things for the side effects that those pills use to give to me. But I think those of us, who have survived over the years, can attest to the advances and the luck and the blessings we have now. The life expectancy for anyone right now if someone is diagnosed today and they go into treatment and they adhere to treatment—which is critical—their life expectancy is about forty years.”

 

This education about the life one can live what prompted Eric and a group of friends to start a network of persons living with HIV. And in 2011 Collaborative Network of Persons Living with HIV or CNET+ was created. One of the co-founders is Adi Mai. Thirty-two year old Adi, puts a whole new spin on making lemonade when life gives you lemons. She was diagnosed in 2009. She was married at the time to a soldier in the Belize Defense Force.

 

Adi Mai

Adi Mai, Living with HIV, Founding Member CNET+

“Like housewife waiting for my husband to come home and every time I was with him, there was some change. Whenever he came home, I was always feeling sick. And then my father started to kinda wonder why it is so; that every time he comes home, I get sick. So when he left the last time, I got really sick and I was up and down. My father took me to Universal Hospital and even to Chetumal. At Chetumal I stayed there for two week and still nothing, they couldn’t find anything. My mother thought it was poison or HIV; she was the one that made the decision because I wasn’t in the condition to make any decisions. So when the doctor came and gave the results, they didn’t tell me anything. The doctor just told my parents that they had to take me, bring me home and take me to the hospital here, government hospital, because they have treatment for HIV. At that moment I just started to cry and shout, I think. But there was my daddy beside me and he has always been a support for us.  I just remember him holding me by my arms and shaking me up….“OK you will not die.” What I really wanted to know was if she was infected or what and I cried for Nurse Ortega to do her test. And when she went, she did my babies test and when she came back, she told me that she was negative. And when I heard that, all the, what I was afraid of, it just went away. I kinda got strong at that moment.”

 

She decided to take a hold of the situation, started medication; joined a support group and yet her biggest surprise was yet to come.

 

Adi Mai

“For me, I think being HIV has actually improved my life.  For me, it has improved. How? Because after being diagnosed, I started to attending support groups in Orange Walk and that is where I met my partner. So apart from that, one mentality that we have when we are diagnosed…”Oh my god, we are never going to have a partner again and nobody will want us and nobody would want to be with us.” I said, no love for me. Most people think that we, as women, should not get pregnant if we are HIV positive because the baby will come out positive. So there is a lot of negative and positive reaction. As a person persons living with HIV, we have the right to get pregnant, but we also have the responsibility to take care of ourselves. For example: taking our medication at the appropriate time, trying to eat healthy, to exercise and also going to our doctor checkups regularly. And apart from being positive and my partner is positive, many people think that we can have sex with condom. And that is number one. We also have to protect ourselves. So it is a big responsibility.”

 

Eric Castellanos

Adi and Mynor are both founders of CNET+; they were with us from the beginning. They are part of the seven persons that founded CNET+. So they have grown and educated themselves along with CNET+; we have all grown together. And the moment they decided to have a child, I think it was an important step because it talks about the human rights of persons living with HIV to choose to have children, if they wish to, and it also talks about the advances in science in which we now can say persons living with HIV can have children that are HIV negaitve.”

 

A baby has a twenty-five percent chance of being born with HIV if his/her mother is positive and is not on treatment. However, that risk can be reduced to less than one percent if the mother seeks the proper treatment during her pregnancy.

 

Adi Mai

“In my case, I was there with the medication, I didn’t miss; I always used condom. I always try to get a good sleep. The help and support of family members and partner is number one. And here I am. When they handed me the baby, the doctor there told me everything is fine with your baby. The viral load was undetectable. I think that was the most happiest day of my life.”

 

Mynor Salvador Casteneda was born HIV negative; even though both his parents: Adi and Mynor Senior were positive at the time of conception.

 

Eric Castellanos
“Perseverance and adherence; because if the mother was not adhering to treatment when she was pregnant, then the story might have been different. But it is just a story of depicting persons living with HIV as who we really are…just ordinary human beings.”

Adi
“Being HIV, many people would say it is a death sentence…it is not. For me, it has been a wonderful journey and I plan to continue living it and I have grown a lot. I have grown even in my self-esteem I have grown and I think it never went bad for me. It has never went bad.”

 

CNET+ currently serves over three hundred persons living with HIV.  That is only ten percent of the documented three thousand one hundred persons living with HIV in Belize.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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