You might say Ronnie’s family saved his life.
When he was first diagnosed more than 30 years ago, Ronnie was too shocked and scared to seek treatment or support. Because back then, HIV was considered a death sentence. “I felt that I had to keep it in. I didn’t want to tell my family. I didn’t know how they would react,” remembers Ronnie. “I knew they loved me, but this was different. I didn’t know if I was going to be ostracized like so many other young men. I didn’t know how to tell my mother I might possibly die in a couple of years.”
So he kept his status to himself, right up until the moment he got sick. Really sick. When his mother found out “her baby” needed help, she didn’t hesitate.
“Her stepping in when she did—to let me know that she loved me, that she supported me, that I was going to be fine and that I could get through this—was just so, so amazing,” says Ronnie. “Having a mother like her really motivated me to want to be better, to live my best life and to take care of myself in a way that I didn’t initially think that I would be able to do.”
You can live a vibrant, full, happy life like me.
As HIV treatments advanced, taking care of himself has gotten easier for Ronnie. Instead of swallowing 30 pills a day, most people living with HIV take just one or two. The harsh side effects that used to make him miserable are long gone. There are community resources, drug assistance programs and support groups to help people living with HIV stay strong, too. And best of all, new HIV treatment options are so good at lowering the amount of HIV in a patient’s blood, it’s possible to live with HIV and never have to worry about passing it on.
Through all these changes, Ronnie knew he could count on his family’s support—and especially his niece Miracal. “From day one, she was the person I could really connect with,” says Ronnie. She’s been by his side the whole way. They learned about HIV together. They encouraged each other when things got tough. And when Ronnie decided to share his story and status with others, Miracal became a prevention educator, too.
“He’s always been like a father to me. I knew if I needed anything I could always confide in him,” says Miracal. “When I get married, he’s the one who’s going to walk me down the aisle.” Their relationship has taught her the importance of giving and getting support. And now Miracal wants to help others. “We all go through challenges, we all face problems. If I know I can be someone’s support, I’m going to be there.”
“It makes all the difference in the world to know you have someone who’s championing you and someone who’s there for you,” says Ronnie. He never thought he’d make it to 30. Now he’s 60. He’s healthy. And he’s determined to stay that way. “I plan to live just as long or longer than anyone else that I know. It’s a whole new world and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”