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4 comments | Tuesday, July 29, 2008

During National HIV Testing Day GBM News journalist and Baltimore resident Justin Smith revealed one of the most private aspects of his life in a very unconventional way, his HIV status via YouTube.

Justin has courageously given a face to a disease that so many African-Americans are living with, many of whom are unaware of their status, choose not to know, or wait until it's too late to seek treatment. Viewers get to experience all of his ups and downs while living with the disease. From deciding which medication regimen to take to dealing with depression and the side effects from the drugs.

I had an opportunity to chat with Justin last night and he was just as engaging as I imagined he would be.

Justin on finding out about his status:

"I woke up one morning and popped up out of bed and literally threw up 5 times, twice on the side of my bed, two more times on the bathroom floor and once in the toilet. I knew something was wrong so I went to get tested at Us Helping Us, People Into Living Inc. in D.C. and my test came back positive. I didn't think I was going to die. My first thought was that I'd never be able to have children".

On taking combination therapy:

"After being positive for 2 years my doctor decided that it was time for me to start meds when my T-cell count fell to 261. I take three pills a day once a day, Truvada, Reyataz,and Norvir. Unfortunately, I'm resistant to Atripla, the one pill a day regimen and I've suffered from side effects but my body is adjusting now. I've seen what meds can do to a persons body and I have to be honest... I'm scared".

On why he chose to do the YouTube journal:

"I didn't see a lot of representation from African-American gay men who were HIV positive who were putting themselves out there. People need to know that this disease is real and it's killing us. My doctors suggested that I keep a diary to record my feelings and I decided that I would take it a step further and record a video to help others".

On his YouTube journal's impact:

"You wouldn't believe the e-mails that I've been receiving. A 19 year old kid wrote me and said that he'd never known anyone else with HIV, especially anyone black. He went on to tell me how he became infected and how he was depressed and contemplating suicide until he began surfing the net and came across my videos. He said, "now I know someone else like me and I know I'm not alone."


<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I'm 55 years old. I was diagnosed as HIV positive on 8-22-92 (the day before my birthday). I refused to take HIV meds until 5-04 when my T-cell count dropped to 175.

I've been taking Atripla (it's three medications in one pill) for more than a year and it works for me with few side effects. My viral load has been undetectable for about 4 years and my T-cell count is usually between 500 and 600.

So you see, a middle-aged black gay man can live with the HIV virus and still be healthy: my doctor told me I was a "healthy" HIV positive person. Until he said that, I didn't know that the words "healthy" and "HIV positive" could go together.

When I tested positive back in 1992, it was a death sentence. THAT IS NO LONGER TRUE and it hasn't been true since about 1996 or 1997 when a whole new class of medications were approved by the FDA for people with HIV.

Every black gay man should get tested and, if the test is positive, don't panic because there are medicines available that can help you. They are expensive but if you don't have private medical insurance you can get Medicaid assistance if you meet the income/resource standards. Also, for people who are too poor to pay for the drugs but not poor enough for Medicaid there are special programs in every state that can help you. Get out there and get the help you need. Also there are HIV organizations/groups that can point you in the right direction. You don't have to walk with your head down or be depressed. Don't wait. Get started.

I love Justin. He is a brave soul. I hope he keeps doing what he's doing.

July 30, 2008 7:26 AM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

I too have been affected by this virus. I found out by giving blood. I always lied when the Red Cross asked about my sexual activities, because I though their policy to be unfair and biased and I knew I ALWAYS played safe. Then I met 'HIM" and after being together for about 1.5 years we started to have unprotected sex. But, when the Red Cross sent me a letter I knew already I cried, he lied or denied or didn't know but I did. I started therapy about 1.5 years later and have been undetectable since soon after beginning. I am healthy POZ and unashamed. I just hope we as a community and segment community and a nation act quickly before it become way too late. Play safe. Get Tested Often and Be Honest with you partner. You will be surprised what possibilities open up when you are honest.

July 30, 2008 10:42 AM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

Like your blog!
Checkout mine, too.
Peek inside the journey of a celebrity journalist . . .

July 30, 2008 9:13 PM

<$BlogCommentAuthor$> said...

hold your head up and keep the faith and let god take care of the rest because that is the only way i am no 8 years healed of hiv woooooooooooooooooh!!!! god bless you i will keep you in my prayers daily.if i have learned anything in these past 8 years its that being you is the only you can be because life is way too short not 2

August 03, 2008 3:58 AM


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