Theresa Kenney
Marc Hamman
Valencia, California
Positive since 1987  

I’m 66 years old and have been positive and undetectable for 26 years. I’ve had two heart attacks, a triple bypass, multiple ablation procedures for VT, an ICD implant and was near death in December 2011 with congestive heart failure.  But because of my otherwise good physical condition—I’m 164 pounds, 5’11," lean, a non-smoker and a non-drinker—and my absolute compliance with my HIV drug regimen, I was given the chance to be put on a list for a heart transplant.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think it possible for an HIV positive individual to be considered for a heart transplant. But my cardiac team at Cedars-Sinai in LA decided I was a good candidate, and after being on the list for only two days, I received a heart from a 19-year-old donor on December 22. I became the first positive person on the West Coast to receive a heart transplant (and one of a few in the world).  

Twenty months later, after careful juggling my HIV/antirejection program, I workout, walk three-plus miles every other day and travel the world.  I am on the lowest dose of rejection meds on record in their program, with no evidence of rejection. It also helps that my devoted partner of 26 years was a supportive caregiver through it all. We were able to finally get married last July when Prop 8 was overturned.

The point of my story is: If you keep in shape and can maintain a compliant regimen, it is possible to become a transplant candidate in spite of an HIV-positive diagnosis.  If you are turned down, try another medical center.  

I want to get the word out to other positive folks that your diagnosis won’t necessarily preclude you from being considered for organ transplantation.

What three adjectives best describe you?
Stubborn, compliant, obsessive

What is your greatest achievement?
Realizing how rich and diverse my life has been

What is your greatest regret?
Not having more insight at a younger age

What keeps you up at night?
Worrying about Medicare/Social Security being tampered with

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
Dealing with the loss of so many friends in the early years of the epidemic

What is the best advice you ever received?
Always pay your medical insurance first!

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Anthony Fauci (director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

What drives you to do what you do?
The wonder of the natural world

What is your motto?
Less is not more. More is more!

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My passport/iPhone/iPad

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
An elephant (they are social, caring, intelligent and wise)

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