MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our show today is all about survival and in just a few minutes, we'll find out what the seemingly glamorous life of the stage is really like and to hear about a new safety net that helps theater professionals in times of crisis. But first, an illness that's hit D.C. hard over the years, HIV/Aids.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Today, more than 14,000 D.C. residents live with HIV. And among those infected, perhaps none are as vulnerable as children and adolescents. In the first part of our series on children with HIV, special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza talks with two young people about living with the disease. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Kendra's childhood was a blur of medical appointments.
Getting your blood drawn, having to get shots, getting sick by a drop of a dime.
Her mother didn't tell her what was wrong with her, but made her take 10 pills a day.
It was just hard because I would have to come in the house early and sit there and take medicine and everyone else was outside playing. Like, why? Why me?
Kendra is 20 now. But she remembers when she was 13 and a doctor finally told her she was HIV positive.
I got really scared and freaked out and I was just crying hysterically. That was a wild day for me.
Kendra had contracted the disease from her mother who apologized and sat sobbing beside her. But even as Kendra found out she had something in common with her mother, she realized she was different from other family members who don't have HIV.
I have a younger sibling and an older sibling who are perfectly normal and I'm not saying I'm not normal, I'm saying I have to wake up and think about this every day.
To the outside, Kendra is bubbly and outgoing. She doesn't tell anyone about her diagnosis and says her secret is like carrying a heavy weight in her heart. She hasn't even told her best friend.
She would just look at me different and give me so much sympathy. And I wake up every day with a smile on my face because I'm waking up.
When Kendra has an appointment, she just says she has to see her doctor and lets her friends assume what they want.
They possibly think it's sickle cell or something like that because I always come back with band aids on my arms. So they're like, oh, she's getting blood drawn, it's sickle cell.
Kendra watches her friends go out on dates. Some even have children. She misses having a boyfriend.
You just really want to get to know a guy. You're at the age where you want to have sex, but you're scared.
She remembers sitting through her 9th grade health class listening to her teacher talk about HIV. And all those anonymous questions asking for specific answers? No one knew they came from her.
It helped me learn how you can be a normal person and no one can ever know. So I thank God for that, that I still look normal.
You look really stylish.
Thank you, thank you. I do this to encourage myself. I try to make at least the outside appearance look nice, even if I'm not having a wonderful day.
Kendra says the one place she can be herself is at the hospital in the doctor's office.
Yes. Yes. Because everybody who knows me here knows that I have a problem. I feel really free and open and can just talk.
Kendra has a full-time job and is also a full-time student. She says she tries hard to remember all the blessings in her life, but there are times, like one day recently, when she feels God has forgotten her.
I was in so much pain and I was so tired. And I just thought, like, when will it be over? That was the day I thought about death a lot.
She's anxious about whether she might become like her mother who, after 25 years of living with HIV has, as Kendra puts it, more down than up days. She wonders whether she'll ever find a partner who will accept her diagnosis. And she always worries that someone might find out. But Kendra has also realized how strong she is.
I have HIV. HIV doesn't have me. I was put here for a reason. And I haven't fully met that potential. So I'm going to keep striving for it.
Kendra was born with HIV. But in most cases, the virus is transmitted sexually. And even though it's the same disease that needs the same medications and the same support, young people who acquire HIV sexually often feel the stigma even more strongly. Luke, who's 18 now, was 12 when he first had sex with a classmate. When he was 14, he saw a video about safe sex in school and decided to get tested. But when it came time to get the results...
I talked to my friend and they told me don't worry about it, you don't have it. So I did not go and get my results.
Two years later, Luke donated blood and found out he was HIV positive.
I walked out, my face was motionless. I was so confused.
Luke says he knew unprotected sex put him at risk for HIV, he just didn't think it would happen to him.
I was young. I was thinking it's everyone else's problem, not mine.
This soft-spoken teenager doesn't allow himself to think about his life before HIV, whom he may have infected before he learned of his diagnosis or even who infected him.
I just really have blocked that out of my head. I got to think forward.
But in the early morning quiet, Luke admits he wishes he could rewind his life.
Every day. Every day I wish I could live another life.
Luke has told his two best friends about his diagnosis. With everyone else, he's quiet when the subject comes up.
My friend the other day had a rash. He goes like, I was at the beach. The sand was irritating me. And he was like, eww, you've got AIDS, like, go away, you got cooties. I didn't say anything.
He hasn't told a single family member. His mother works two jobs and he didn't want to upset her with the news.
That's a pain that no parent wants to know. And if I was in her shoes, that's not the words I would want to hear from my child.
Besides, Luke says, everyone has a secret they don't want anyone to know. This is his. And it's one that's easy to keep at home.
My mom doesn't go through my room. I do my own doctor's appointments.
Medicaid pays for Luke's treatment and medicines and he hides the paperwork. He's on one pill a day and doesn't have side effects. So nothing much has changed on a day-to-day basis. But he has changed as a person. Luke had plans for his future before his diagnosis. No more.
I don't look forward to the rest of my life. I think I'm going to die young.
He sees his life now, not in terms of years, but in terms of fun. So he goes out all the time with his friends. He has protected sex, but doesn't tell the girls he's with that he's HIV positive. He's determined to be optimistic.
You can't just think of life like it's horrible, it's hard. I mean, it is hard. It is horrible. You fall down and you get right back up. You can't just sit there. You have to get right back up.
These young people are trying their best to keep getting back up. But part of the challenge they face that they can't control is whether their friends, their families and the outside world can start seeing past their illness. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.