By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
ANALISE*, wife and mother of four, is one of the longest living HIV-positive individuals in the Bahamas. This year makes 24 years since she contracted the virus at the age of 18.
Though her mother died from HIV related complications, and she has outlived two friends who lost their battle with the disease a few years ago, Analise continues to prove that a HIV diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence.
Speaking to Tribune Health on condition of anonymity, she said the key to her survival for over two decades is the fact that she remains adherent to her medication.
“I was diagnosed in 1995. I found out when I was pregnant with my third child. I did a test early on in the pregnancy that showed up negative. Midway through the pregnancy I tested again and it came back positive. They gave me about 100 pills to take during the pregnancy and this was to ensure that the baby did not contract the virus, and she didn’t,” Analise said.
After having a successful pregnancy and not passing the virus on to her daughter, Analise decided to have another child with a man whom she had fallen in love with.
“When I had my third daughter the person I ended up meeting gave me a lot of hope. He was truly supportive, so I decided to have a baby for him,” she said.
Analise went through the same process, undergoing tests and taking medication to ensure the virus wasn’t transmitted to her child during birth.
While she took proper precautions to ensure her children were born unaffected, Analise didn’t exercise the same caution when it came to having intercourse with her partner. She was unaware of his status and admitted they took a big risk by having unprotected sex.
“We didn’t do anything to ensure that he didn’t get the virus. He took risks and personally I didn’t know the information I knew today, how it could have been transmitted to him,” she said.
“And honestly, it didn’t bother me. At the time I was a young girl. I really wasn’t checking and I just had this ‘don’t care’ attitude.”
After having her last child, Analise made the decision to have a hysterectomy.
“I just didn’t want to deal with the fear of getting pregnant again and passing the virus to my child.”
However, Analise still remained the unconcerned young woman she had been. That is until she received a wake-up call.
For about seven years after being diagnosed Analise neglected her regular six-month check-ups. When she finally went in, she found out the infection had progressed to dangerous levels.
“I just said one day, ‘Man, lemme go check my blood. And when I went the lady said, ‘How you walk in here?’ I say, ‘How you mean?’, and she said, ‘Girl, you at a bad stage. I had a viral load of almost 200,000 and my CD4-T cell count was about 11. What all that means is that I had so much of the virus in my blood all because I wasn’t going in and checking. The numbers were too extreme, it should never be that high.”
According to WebMD, HIV infection happens in three stages – the first being acute infection when the body puts up a fight against the virus and symptoms are not necessarily detected. The second being the chronic HIV stage where one’s immune system loses the battle with HIV. Left untreated in this stage, CD4 T-cells destroy the immune system. Medication helps to fight HIV and rebuilds the immune system. The third stage is AIDS, which is an advanced stage of HIV infection where CD4-T cells drop below 200. People with AIDS that don’t take medication will live for about three years or even less. However, with medication and healthy lifestyle they can liver longer.
“I cried when I went on medication because I allowed it to get to that point and I was doing so well,’ said Analise.
Since being on mediation and adhering to it for the past 12 years, she has seen her a turnaround in her health.
“The medication is extremely awesome. My viral load has dropped from 200,000 to about 18,000-19,000. My CD4-T cells that were once 11 are now up to about 700 plus. I don’t miss my appointments to have my blood checked because now I have learned the value of it. And I have gotten past the stigma of everyone seeing me,” she said.
Today, Analise counsels and speaks to people with HIV and how important adhering to one’s medication is.
“When my kids got around age seven I told them, ‘If you want your mummy to live I have to take this medication.’ Sometimes I forget so I told them, ‘You have to remind me because I have to take this medication.’ Even to this day my youngest daughter who is now 23 years old would come in the room to me and say, ‘Hey, you take ya pills. I don’t want you dying on me, woman’, so this is a constant reminder for me.”
See Tribune Health next Tuesday for more on Analise’s story; how she navigates love and marriage, and discrimination.
*Name has been changed