Living With HIV
by Liz Highleyman
The fact that HIV-positive people can live long, healthy lives comes as a surprise to many, including Hector Melia, a 49-year-old native of the Bronx, New York. “I found out that I had HIV in 1991 when I had a really bad infection in my foot,” he said. “My doctors didn’t think I would live for very long, and I didn’t think to question their logic. But I’m still here, almost 20 years later.”
Melia, however, will be the first to admit that his long-term survival hasn’t always been easy. “I’ve been on [HIV] medications for 15 years,” he says. “It was hard, getting used to the pills and the side effects, but I’m really good about taking them.” In fact, he credits his good adherence for his excellent lab results: an undetectable viral load and 410 CD4s at last count.
His healthy numbers keep Melia at a low risk for typical AIDS-related problems, such as opportunistic infections (OIs) and wasting syndrome. But he, like many people living with HIV, must consider other challenges when it comes to long-term living with the virus—and its treatment.
For example, long-term antiretroviral (ARV) treatment requires long-term planning, not only with medical issues, but also with services and support you might need to ensure that nothing gets in the way of your health care. What’s more, people with HIV may be at an increased risk for age-related health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, and need to take steps to prevent and treat them.
This POZ Focus explores some tips and tricks to surviving and thriving with HIV. “Every morning, I look in the mirror and tell myself, ‘I can do this,’” Melia says. “I’ve been blessed with many more years than anybody thought was possible”—and he fully expects to enjoy many more.
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