On the final day of LifeWise, a 5-day HIV course we ran last month, a beautiful young lady named Sindi practically jumped out of her seat in her excitement to share her story. Her eyes lit up as she began to speak.
Sindi was diagnosed with HIV 3 years ago while pregnant with her youngest child, and wisely had her CD4 count checked. This test reveals how strong or weak a person’s immune system is, and Sindi’s result was 780, well within the normal range.
Encouraged by fellow members of the Seed of Hope support group, she worked up the courage to tell her mother. As the words spilled out, she saw fear and sorrow flash across her mother’s face, as the old woman looked out her door into the yard where she had buried three of Sindi’s siblings, casualties of AIDS and its awful stigma.
Yet Sindi was different from her siblings. Determined not to let HIV get the best of her, and to spare her mother grief upon grief, Sindi visited the clinic every six months for a repeat CD4 count, waiting for the day when it would reach 200. That is the magic number at which a South African HIV patient can begin receiving ARV treatment.
Sindi’s already slight build began to shrink, and her strength diminished as the weight continued falling off her. She was practically skin and bones, but her CD4 count was still 330, too high to receive the drugs she needed.
Sindi laughed, recalling her need for new clothes, because she had become too embarrassed to wear her old, hopelessly baggy ones. She had gone shopping to find new ones, but found she was now a children’s size 12 – nothing else fit!
At her next clinic visit, Cindy held her breath and waited for the nurse to tell her the CD4 count result. It was 210. Sindi looked at the nurse, waiting for her to speak. Would they allow her to begin treatment even though it wasn’t under 200? And then she heard angelic words: “Would you like to start on ARV’s now?” “Yes! Yebo! Please!” Sindi jumped up and did a little victory dance in the office.
When Sindi told her story at LifeWise, she had been on treatment for two months and had already gained 18 pounds, up from 70lbs to 88lbs. She finished her testimony by saying how Seed of Hope had encouraged her in her own personal fight against AIDS and given her confidence to help her family, friends and neighbours do the same.
As she sat down, hands shot up around the room, and for the next hour the participants shared their stories of hope amidst life with HIV, many for the first time. There were hugs, tears, laughter, and strength, for those who might otherwise have felt powerless.
The next LifeWise course runs June 6-10, and we already have people lining up to attend.