Maria Mejia was born in Colombia and has lived in Miami, Florida her entire life. She discovered she was HIV Positive when she was with the Job Corps Program where they tested individuals for HIV. She was infected with virus around the age 16 from her first boyfriend who at the time, unknowingly to her, was and I.V. drug user and also a gang member and so was she at the time, it was her family at that time. She had a wonderful mother growing up, but at the age of 3 was sexually molested by an uncle and having to deal with a mentally abusive father she ran away from home at the age of 13, which is when she met the boyfriend who would ultimately change her life forever.
Maria, like so many others in the time period back then, never thought contracting HIV was possible because so many people thought it was just a homosexual disease, as we all know today, AIDS is a worldwide epidemic that doesn't discriminate when it comes to sexual orientation. When Maria discovered she had contracted the HIV virus, she felt as though her life was over and went back home to die. As the years passed she realized that she was not dying and accepted the fact that this disease would be with her until the end. She became spiritual and began loving herself again, and decided she would make changes to her life so that she could continue forward with her life.
She says that in ways, HIV/AIDS actually saved her life. She became and activist and an advocate and realized that by sharing her story with others, she could save lives. Her 20 year journey has not been easy, because of the stigma attached to the disease itself, which is why she decided to come out of the HIV/AIDS closet and help others. She says that she doesn't want to feel like she's being treated like a criminal and constantly hide from it, she is a human being who just happens to have an illness.
She is a blogger at Thebody.com and a Girl Like Me from The Well Project. She helps others who have been infected and affected by this illness. She is also a peer educator for Miami Jackson University of Miami helping with educational classes, a volunteer for the Red Cross and was trained by the Health Department to be a pre and post counselor, and doing testing. Maria has been a model for HIV medications, and is currently in the Mac Campaign (My Aids Campaign). She has many dreams and wants to reach the whole world. She is a committed warrior in the campaign to help end the AIDS epidemic.
It only takes one person to change the world, and each time someone like Maria steps forward to tell their story, the world changes for the better.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Miami, Florida.
My relationship with my family is awesome! My mother has been my rock from the beginning but there are some people in my family in Colombia where I am from that think I have another illness, they are very ignorant to the subject.
My mother was the first one I told back in 1991, back then there was even more stigma, she accepted me and by tried to protect me from being hurt. She told me this is something we will keep to ourselves, we will say you have another illness. After the years passed I started feeling out some of my family member and disclosed to a few, they reacted really well because I was a trained HIV educator and I made sure I educated them long before I disclosed it to them.
This is exactly what i was talking about, people are minimizing it because they see us looking good on the outside. People don't see the side effects of the medications which is sometimes more horrible than the disease itself, like body changes. Some people lose fat and gain it in other places, their bodies can become disfigured, it's very sad. Or, they lose fat in their faces, its called a lipodistrophy or lipoathropy, most get neuropathy. It is horrible, its nerve damage, and you are in constant pain 24/7 in your feet and legs and hands, like stabbing needles and numbness. It is so bad they prescribe you morphine and heavy duty narcotics which can lead to even more problems like addictions, gastristis, diabetes, aging quicker,renal problems. The list goes on and on. I will continue to say this and please listen, "HIV/AIDS IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE, BUT IT IS A LIFE SENTENCE, you get no breaks and you will most likely take very toxic medication until you die."
I am thankful for the medications out there but sometimes the side effects of the medications are stronger than the illness itself. Another thing that has me worried is how young people and adults minimize this illness. People seem to think if you get infected you take a pill and you are fine, this is incorrect and as i always say this is not a death sentence anymore, but it is a life sentence.
I think I contracted it from my first boyfriend. We were very young, but a few years later I learned that he used intravenous drugs and he was a gang member.
Back then it was a death sentence. I was alone, away from my family. My first reaction was shock, because the doctor who gave me the diagnosis did not prepare me. When I saw his eyes, originally I thought he would say I had lung cancer or something similar, but he told me in a direct way that I had AIDS, it was really shocking. At that time I wanted to die.
At first, I refused to diagnosis and would not go to doctors to remind me I was HIV Positive, which happens sometimes after a diagnosis. Later, I decided to take control of the situation. I went to a doctor who recommended some strong medication even though it could damage my internal organs.
I wanted to live longer and did not want to die of something else, such as renal failure that was common at that time because of drugs. It was then I realized that I could not sit and wait for death, and had to do something. I took control of my life and started living a healthy lifestyle.
Thebody.com and write articles for the Well Project A Girl Like Me. I also speak at conferences. I volunteer at Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami as a Peer Educator. Through my Facebook page and email I have for the body.com I give advice to those newly diagnosed or those who have a long history with the virus and those who are suicidal.
Among other activities, I give talks in Miami Dade County Public Schools. I've been active in this fight and soon I will join Positive Connections to lecture and I will be part of the plan committee.
If you have unprotected sex, it only takes once to get HIV/AIDS. It can happen to anyone, from the youngest to the oldest. We are strong people and survivors, please do not minimize the disease. Get tested, it is better to know than not know, so lives can be saved. "Having HIV / AIDS is not a death penalty, but it is a life sentence."
Please visit Maria Mejia's Offical Facebook Page and You Tube Channel