Laura is 46, lives in a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, is an advocate within her local community and is HIV positive. Laura was diagnosed with both HIV and hepatitis C at the age of 17, having contracted both blood borne viruses two years earlier during an accident on a school trip. Sadly, Laura was infected with the viruses after receiving contaminated blood products following the accident.
“The diagnosis was a huge shock. I had no idea what it meant or how much longer I had to live, it was a really scary time.”
The diagnosis was not only a devastating shock for Laura, but also for her mother who was the only person aware of her HIV positive status. Due to lack of knowledge and existing stigma surrounding both conditions in 1986, Laura was encouraged to keep her status hidden from friends and family, even from her father and siblings. This isolation coupled with the fear of what her diagnosis meant for her long term health took its toll on Laura. The possibility of a reduced life expectancy and the impact the condition could have on her ability to form long-lasting relationships was a constant worry in the back of her mind.
It wasn’t until a decade after contracting HIV that Laura, then 25, began treatment and started to “feel more in control of her body”, seeing an improvement in her overall health. Although Laura has faced numerous other conditons associated with being HIV positive, including polyneuropathy which can cause a weakness and a tingling/burning sensation in the legs, kidney disease, bone problems (osteoporosis) and liver damage, her viral load has remained consistently low since starting treatment. This has always kept her attitude positive.
She is very aware of the importance of her long-term health and does her best to remain optimistic for the future. She is actively involved in managing her long term care and speaks often with her clinician about the right choices for her. She takes excellent care of her overall health by eating well and exercising – and she was cured of hepatitis C last year.
“I feel fortunate that HIV treatments have improved so significantly since I was diagnosed and that long-term health outcomes are now a lot more positive. A big issue that still needs to be addressed is combatting stigma around HIV, with many people still afraid to disclose their status, just as I was for so many years.”
Laura aims to continue supporting others living with HIV through her community work, providing peer support and educational workshops. Her advice to others living with HIV is to surround yourself with optimistic people and turn to the HIV community and loved ones for support – “you don’t have to live with HIV alone, a full life can be lived”.