A patient from Oak Tree Clinic tells her story
“If I passed you on the street,” she says, “you would have no idea. You wouldn’t know that I am on my way to the Oak Tree Clinic at BC Women’s Hospital. You wouldn’t know that I will always be one of their patients –and you wouldn’t know that without their program, my beautiful baby girl might have been born HIV positive, like her mom. Instead, she is perfectly healthy, HIV negative, just like my husband.”
Five years ago, thanks to a life based around exercise and healthy eating, she looked healthy and fit. She had no idea...
...all that was about to change. The signs were minor at first – a little weight loss, feeling tired – but this progressed to an overwhelming fatigue. When her boyfriend came home one day to discover she had been in bed all day, and was too weak to get up, he brought her immediately to hospital. The disease that had brought her there, kept her in a coma for three weeks and took her weight from a healthy 135 pounds to 96 pounds was full-blown AIDS. Unknown to her, she had been living with HIV for ten years.
“I had no idea where I got it,” she says. “I really hadn’t lived a life of risk, so how did I become HIV positive? And how did it come to this?”
Even as she recovered, she would lie in bed for days in the fetal position, curled in on her sadness and pain; when she did force herself to go out, she would find herself suddenly in tears. Her boyfriend quit his job to care for her; they went into debt to survive while she regained her health. And while her boyfriend was fully supportive, she received mixed reactions from those with whom she shared the news.
“It’s ironic – if I had cancer, or some other chronic disease, people would rally around, maybe hold a fundraiser, certainly be able to relate. It wasn’t like that at all,” she says. “Every person I told, I had to heal for a week. The stigma around HIV is a terrible, hurtful thing.”
One bright light in all this darkness was the network of support she learned about, beginning with a nurse who recommended the Oak Tree Clinic at BC Women’s Hospital.
“The warmth I found at Oak Tree, the family atmosphere, the caring – it made such a difference to me,” she says. “Gradually I learned about other kinds of support that were an immense help, like Loving Spoonful that provides meals to people with AIDS, and the Positive Women’s Network.”
“But Oak Tree Clinic gave me something I would not have found anywhere else – the knowledge that I could have a baby without transmitting HIV, if I followed their program,” she adds. “It’s funny – I was nearly 40, and had never really seen myself as a mother, but once I went through this terrible illness, through a brush with death, I was heartbroken to think I could never have a child. Once I learned I could DO this, it became a very clear goal – I was completely focused on creating a family I had never even known I wanted.”
You can hear the happiness in her voice, in the loving way she says her daughter’s name. She has truly been able to start a new life with the birth of her daughter thanks to the innovative and sensitive care provided by BC Women’s Oak Tree Clinic.
In 17 years, not one HIV positive mother fully treated by our drug regimen
has given birth to an HIV positive baby.
No child receiving treatment for HIV has died in BC since 1996.
BC Women’s is a global leader in HIV/AIDS research, treatment, and care. Oak Tree Clinic is the only program of its kind in British Columbia, providing diagnosis, treatment, care and support for every single HIV+ woman and child in BC. Women are now a high risk group, in part because of the lack of awareness about women’s vulnerability to HIV. Young women between the ages of 15-29 – prime childbearing age – are being hit the hardest, accounting for 45% of positive test results in Canada. The need for sensitive and appropriate support for women living with HIV is greater than ever.
We need your help to continue to offer valuable services and peer support groups to provide more connection, knowledge, and hope to HIV+ women. Your generosity will help women with HIV live healthier, happier lives.