On Nov. 10, ViiV Healthcare presented its yearly HIV Couch Talk. The evening was designed to promote HIV awareness, the need for testing and adhering to treatment, and a chance to dialogue and share stories.
The event featured two "Couch Coaches," individuals who shared personal stories of dealing with a positive diagnosis and how treatment empowered them to reclaim there lives. The event also featured a presentation from Dr. Zandaetta Tims-Cook M.D., M.P.H. of The Atlanta Medical Center, and who is the founder of the Heather Ivey Society.
As guests dined on a full-course meal, they faced a bare stage with only a white couch at the center. The couch symbolized the idea of one-to-one dialogue and its presence set the tone for the evening.
First to speak was C., who spoke at length on dealing with depression ( "I was the poster child of depression" ), working in what he called "a dead-end job" and being in a small town. After finding out that he was HIV-positive in 2005, he found himself subjected to what he termed "strange" treatment from the local medical establishment. After misdiagnosing him, C. said his medical providers treated him like a pariah and ultimately put him under suicide watch at the local psychiatric hospital. A short time later, on a work-related trip to Chicago, C. said he got two big surprises: meeting other HIV-positive individuals and getting connected to a network of support and providers.
In closing, C. said that being diagnosed "forced me to take control of my life," and that now he is happier then he ever has been.
Couch Coach Ebany's story was far different. After being in what she thought was a solid, long-term relationship for years, she and her boyfriend decided to try to have a baby. She said that, to her shock, she found out that she was HIV-positive. Feeling deceived in her relationship, she said she felt she could not tell her parents or forgive herself for her situation, deciding that "no one would love me."
In time, she met an HIV-positive man who did embrace her and, to her surprise, she found herself pregnant. Ebany said that, after a lot of worry, her baby was born HIV-negative. She added that her parents eventually found out her secret and kicked her out of the house, but in time she was able to reconnect and heal the breech. She now works as an HIV advocate and said, "I love myself and my life. I want to live, not just survive."
After Dr. Tims-Cook made her presentation on newer medical treatments, the floor was opened up for questions from attendees.
[Editor's note: Recently, ViiV announced it will award grants to five organizations across the country as part of the Positive Action MSM Youth Engagement Initiative. Among those is the Puerto Rican Cultural Center's Generation L, in Chicago.]