For Deandrea, “16 candles” had a different meaning than the meaning many of us assign to our sixteenth birthday. It was on her sixteenth birthday that Deandrea, an African American female, now 28 years old, first learned that she was HIV positive.
“I found out I was HIV positive when I went into the Job Corp”, explained Deandrea. “It was a couple of days before my birthday and the first test came back undeterminable. The second test came back positive. I was furious. I was like, ya’ll must have got the blood switched or something. Ya’ll are trippin’. I aint positive. I went through a thing. You should have seen me. I was off the chain – kicking things, throwing things.”
After Deandrea learned of her new HIV status, she experienced the same feelings many newly diagnosed individuals report feeling. “I went into depression mode”, said Deandrea. “I didn’t want to eat. All I did was sleep. I didn’t want to talk to nobody. And then they had me seeing a psychologist three times a week.”
Not only was Deandrea hard on herself, but soon others piled on where she would leave off, Deandrea explained. “My mom went through the ‘Don’t eat off my plate’, and ‘clean everything with bleach’ stage. But after a while, they [the Job Corp] sent her information. She still stuck on me as far as telling me to watch what I was doing, but came a long way. She was like, ‘Did you take your medicine’, ‘what did the doctor say’, and did they give you this test?”
It was in 1997, shortly after Deandrea moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, that she decided she needed to make certain changes in her life. “After a while, things got better”, recalled Deandrea. “After we got educated, I was like, I need to do this. I need to keep myself healthy.”
Soon after, Deandrea married and had her first son in the year 2000. Having a child was extra joyful for Deandrea as she was told at 16 years old, when first diagnosed as HIV positive, that she probably would never have kids.
“I think that kind of hit hard”, said Deandrea. “Being told at 16 that I never could have kids. Now, I’m like, haha. I got two [kids] now – and both of them are negative!”
It was prior to having her first son that Deandrea first starting taking HIV medication. “When I got pregnant with my first son, that’s the first time I started taking medication. So he would not be positive”, Deandrea remembers.
“I started my first regimen and after I had him, I stayed on it for about six months”, said Deandrea. “ Then I went on a ‘medicine vacation’ as they call it – where you can stay off of it. Then I had my little girl…..she passed away…..and I decided to stay on meds for a while.”
Deandrea took a second medicine vacation in the latter part of 2001 and stayed undetectable until 2003. After becoming detectable again, upon her doctor’s recommendation, Deandrea resumed her medication regimen and continues until this day consistently taking four pills per day.
Deandrea’s regimen has only been modified once since 2003 where she had to switch medications due to the pregnancy of her second son, born in 2004.
Currently, Deandrea works for Macy’s Department Store, but would like to work in the future for an area AIDS service organization. “With me being positive – and working in the HIV community, I can go share my story at schools and at churches. I want to help prevent the spread [of HIV]. There are so many people in my age bracket who are being infected and think, ‘it won’t happen to me’, or, ‘I only had sex with her once and she seemed clean to me.”
Aside from Deandrea’s professional pursuits, what she currently enjoys most are her kids. “What I enjoy now most is my children”, Deandrea reminisced. “They are the fire that burns uncontrollably. They are my life….my whole world. The one thing that I want most for me and my children is for us to live comfortable. We aint gotta live lavish, just comfortable…so we can take a trip. I want to take them to Disney World. I want to give them the things that I wanted when I was a kid. I want financial stability.”
When asked what she wanted to shout from the mountaintops, Deandrea answered quickly, “The one thing I would say – even though they might look clean, don’t do drugs or have promiscuous sexual behavior. Always, always, always, even when you don’t think you need to – practice safe sex!”