The Amazing Survivor

On June 15, 1999, at 6:15 p.m., her life was forever changed. That night, Lisa received devastating news. The tests were in; she was HIV positive.

Lisa (name changed to protect her privacy) was stunned about the news from her doctor. In her strong manner, she simply asked, “Where do we go from here?”

The softball-mom and Girl Scout-mother of one had put the past behind her until it invaded her life five years later.

Five years prior to that unforgettable day, Lisa, then 35, was finishing her last semester of college at the University of Texas Houston.

Now, at age 52, she is in the process of obtaining her second college degree, this one in History from California State University Sacramento.

She and one of her girlfriends went out for a few drinks at a neighborhood bar one night in the spring of 1994.

They weren’t expecting to meet anyone or stay out late, but when a tall, blonde, handsome man caught Lisa’s eye, she gathered the courage to buy him a drink.

The gesture was returned with harmless flirtation and drinks with the man and three of his male friends…or so Lisa thought.

It was getting late and the handsome stranger offered to drive Lisa home since her girlfriend had already left. Excited, Lisa accepted…and that was the last thing she remembered.

Lisa awoke the next morning in her apartment. Immediately, she knew she had been raped. What was more devastating, she had an overwhelming suspicion that she had been infected with HIV/AIDS.

Lisa began to piece together what had happened the night before. The agonizing pain she was in and the intensity of the hangover she was suffering from was the worst she’d felt.  She said she had been drugged and that her clothes were not properly on.

She didn’t file a police report because she didn’t think a jury would be convinced from the available evidence.

A friend from the bar Lisa had visited the previous night told her that she had left with the group of four men seemingly happy. Lisa had been drugged, raped and forgotten.

While the world was awaiting the promise of a new century, Lisa became very ill.

The doctors performed several tests and what was thought to be a bad case of anemia turned out to be an aggressive case of HIV.

A month after the horrible news, July 1999, her body was literally ingesting itself to survive in what is known as HIV Wasting Syndrome.

T-cells within the blood are vital to defending the body against disease and infection. Without them, we die.

HIV/AIDS destroys the immune system, including T-cells, and essentially renders the victim defenseless to even the most minor disease.

The average person has between 500 and 1,600 T-cells per milliliter of blood. This number can fluctuate for several reasons, from stress to disease.

The United States Centers for Disease Control classifies anyone with a T-cell count of 200 or less as having AIDS. Lisa’s count was at 44.

She was immediately prescribed two AIDS medications. Her body reacted to the medications with a fever of 103 degrees and vomiting.

Her family discovered her condition that July.

Doctors believed that Lisa had contracted Tuberculosis and placed her under quarantine in the terminally-ill wing of the hospital. The only way she was expected to leave the hospital was in a body bag.

Family and friends had to take extreme precautions when visiting her by thoroughly washing their hands and wearing medical breathing masks and gloves.

Lisa should have died at age 40.

Eight days after being admitted to the hospital, Lisa walked out of the building in much better condition.

Lisa had an eight-inch-long tube (“pickline”) inserted into one of the arteries in her left arm so that she could self-administer antibiotics for 10 days.

A few days after leaving the hospital, Lisa returned to work.

Within six months, the level of HIV in her blood was nearly undetectable. By 2002, her T-cell count was around 300.

Lisa’s health has been improving exponentially. Her current T-cell count is a healthy 736.

If she wasn’t tested for AIDS, it would be impossible to tell that only a decade ago, her life nearly ended.

Advances in medicine and treatment have forever changed Lisa’s life. She has been on only one medication since September 2010.

Lisa has trouble paying her medical bills and has been unable to find a job for nine years. She didn’t begin to receive disability payments until two years after applying for it.

Despite Lisa’s financial troubles, she has gained a new outlook on life. Since her amazing recovery, she has removed major stressors from her life and is continuing to pursue her goals.

A Texas native, Lisa is a tough, no-nonsense survivor. Her visibly gentle demeanor is misleading. Don’t mess with Lisa.

AIDS nearly killed her at age 40. Now, at age 52, Lisa is continuing to fight. Through the insurmountable odds, she has overcome and once again taken control of her life.

When asked to describe herself, Lisa instantly said, “Honey, I’m going to be the longest-surviving person with AIDS.”