Keeping a Positive Attitude After a Positive HIV Diagnosis
Tiná Washington, Senior Peer
Advocate for the Coastal Health
District, accepts an award from
Sistas Organizing to Survive for the
part she played in organizing the
Eighteen years ago, Tiná Washington thought she had dodged a
bullet. After finding out that her former fiancé was HIV
positive, she got tested. The test came back negative. Nine
months after that test, Tiná couldn’t shake a cold and knew
something was wrong. She got tested again. This time, the
results changed her life.
“I tested positive but I didn’t cry or break down,” she said. “I
made a choice and I have to deal with it. I have always been
raised that when there’s a problem, you figure out how to tackle
That positive attitude has helped Washington through 18 years of
physical and emotional ups and downs. After testing positive,
she struggled to find a medical regimen that would work.
Initially, she was told she had three months to live. That’s
when she met Dr. Debbie Hagins, the Coastal Health District’s
Clinical Director for HIV Outpatient Services.
“Dr. Hagins literally threw every medicine bottle I had in the
garbage and started me on a new regimen,” said Washington. “My
numbers changed dramatically within two weeks and I’ve stayed on
track ever since.”
After her interaction with Dr. Hagins, Washington began
volunteering to help other HIV positive patients in Brunswick,
Georgia, by driving them to the clinic to receive services. She
recalls that initially, those getting on the bus to be
transported were nervous. But Washington quickly changed that.
“When someone got on the bus I would immediately say, ‘Everybody
here is positive, including the driver,’ and that put them at
ease,” said Washington.
Washington also helps explain things at the clinic. “Things need
to be broken down into layman’s terms. When you make a person
feel like they’re not smart enough, it doesn’t help them or the
community because they drop out of care and the disease
continues to spread.”
Her stint as a volunteer led to Washington’s full-time job as
one of the first HIV peer advocates in the state of Georgia.
Today, as a senior peer advocate for the Coastal Health
District, Washington provides guidance and emotional support to
HIV positive clients and tries to ensure that they adhere to
taking their medication.
“The first thing I tell a new client is that we can cry, we can
scream, and we can resent this disease. But after that cycle has
played out, we can fight,” she said.
Washington said she believes that she has become a stronger
counselor because of her own issues and the knowledge that if
she can overcome the struggles associated with being HIV
positive, so can others.
“If I reach just one person who is super-scared and
super-fearful and doesn’t know how to disclose their status and
then watch them grow and blossom and become productive, then I
know I’ve done my job,” she said.
Washington knows first-hand how difficult it can be to overcome
stigmas associated with having HIV. “But when it comes to HIV,
there are no stereotypes,” she said.
“I didn’t come from a broken home or family. There was no abuse
and no drugs. I went to private school and my parents have been
married for 52 years,” said Washington.
Three years ago, Washington co-founded the group SPIRIT
(Successful Positive Individuals Reaching Inspirable
Transformations). SPIRIT is for people who are infected with,
and affected by, HIV. Monthly meetings are held to help clients
manage their care using different tools available to them. In
March, 2011, Washington was recognized by the African-American
women advisory group, the Sistas Organizing to Survive
(SOS)-Georgia for her work with SPIRIT. Washington’s next goal
is to start a new group aimed at HIV positive teens that are
transitioning into adulthood.
Every year when World AIDS Day rolls around, Washington says it
gives her a chance to reflect on her own personal motto: “I have
HIV. HIV does not have me.” It is that spirit that she tries to
instill in others every day.
“Life isn’t about what we could have been,” she said. “Life is
about what we are and will become.”
-By Sally Silbermann, Risk Communicator/Public Information
Officer, Coastal Health District; W. Douglas Skelton, M.D.,
District Health Director, Coastal Health District, District 9-1
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