This post was originally published in July and in observance of World AIDS Day I thought it would be appropriate to post it again for those of you who may have missed it. Justin Smith's story is quite incredible as well as his courage to share something so private publicly in order to help others. I'm proud to call him a friend.
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."