Ida Bythersmith, 53
(diagnosed 1991)
Wanda Elliott-Pearson, MD

Working together since: 1998

Wanda on Ida: What makes Ida special is her faith and her positive outlook. She has a strong belief in God and she is determined not to give in. She waited years before going on HIV meds, but now that she’s on them, she takes them on schedule, even when that’s very difficult.

Ida on Wanda: When I first tested positive, the hospital didn’t have anything to offer me but AZT and no hope. So I went back to Dr. Elliott, my family doctor. I said, “They told me I have five years.” She said, “Don’t you let anybody tell you how long you’re going to live.” Since then we’ve been learning about HIV together. She keeps in touch with all my viral doctors, keeps track of my bloodwork, my diet, my stress level. We’ve been together longer than husbands and wives.”

New York City

Maria Ortiz, 47 (diagnosed 1994)
Antonio Urbina, MD,
St. Vincent’s Hospital

Working together since: 2000

Tony on Maria: She’s triumphed over hardships and remains hopeful and optimistic. She knows I’ll work diligently to address her health issues. I don’t take anything for granted.

Maria on Tony: He asks questions about everything—not just the HIV. He makes sure I understand every number on the lab test before I go home. He returns my phone calls right away, and he’s a great listener. Once I told him he was starting to dress a little sloppy, and the next appointment he was in a shiny new lab coat and nice ironed shirt. He said, “Is this better?”

San Francisco

Vince Gaither, 37 (diagnosed 1990)
Virginia Cafaro, MD,
Wellspring Medical group

Working together since: 1997

Virginia on Vince: He first came to me in search of an equal partnership. He’s intelligent, articulate and doesn’t want to be dictated to. With his resistance and allergies to so many HIV meds, we’ve had to try a lot of treatments, but he hasn’t lost patience. It helps that we both have a good sense of humor—we laugh a lot.

Vince on Virginia: She treats me like an individual. I’m a former heroin addict with 15 years in recovery and I have a lot of problems with HIV meds, but she’s been very persistent about finding appropriate treatments, including alternative ones. She’s always attending conferences, staying up to date. When I had crypto, she could tell before it showed up on the tests. I really trust her.