Jimmy: HIV has given me a new life

He has been through a lot: intolerance, loneliness and serious illness.

Researched and written by Rafahela García and Sandra Esquén
© UNICEF Perú/2018/Volpe
UNICEF Perú/2018/Volpe
19 July 2018

For a 22-year-old, Jimmy (the name he chose to tell his story) has been through a lot: intolerance, loneliness and serious illness. However, he has also found open arms and understanding that have given him hope and strength.

Six months ago, Jimmy was diagnosed with HIV. When he heard the news, he thought his time on earth was up, that the tuberculosis he suffered at 16 had been a warning – a warning he ignored as he continued to party through his teenage years.

These thoughts were interrupted by the doctor and nurse caring for him that day at the Amazonian Hospital in Pucallpa, Peru. “You’re going to take medication, you’re going to eat well and you’re going to live. If you don’t look after yourself, you’ll die,” they said, almost in unison. Jimmy left the hospital determined to beat HIV, but he decided not to tell his family.

For more than a month, he spent most of his time in bed in silence. Jimmy was used to being alone. He grew up living with his religious father, who left him at home while he worked. His parents had separated over not sharing the same religion. Now an adult, Jimmy was closer to his mother and her partner, whom he considers a father.

Finally, at his mother’s insistence, Jimmy shared his news with her and his step-father: “I’m HIV positive and I’m already receiving treatment,” he said. She didn’t believe him until she accompanied him to the hospital on one of his visits.

“It hasn’t been easy for either of us. But now we accept it and are living with the situation,” Jimmy says.

“One day I was about to give up. My step-father noticed and brought over a friend of his. She told me she had been living with HIV for 10 years. She looked healthy. It filled me with hope.”

Jimmy returned to work and started thinking about going back to pharmaceutical school, which he abandoned for economic reasons. He also decided to take a leadership role in Pucallpa’s LGBT community. As an LGBT leader, he wants to help prevent HIV by giving adolescents information they may not have heard – or listened to –at school.

© UNICEF Perú/2018/Volpe
UNICEF Perú/2018/Volpe

While Jimmy feels more empowered, he is also afraid that people will find out about his condition. Not out of shame, but for fear of rejection, something that medicine can’t treat.

“I had a partner who always told me there shouldn’t be secrets between us. When I told them I have HIV, they left me.”

Jimmy has decided not to tell his biological father. “He isn’t a bad person but he wouldn’t understand.” He hasn’t told his friends either because he worries they might act differently with him or that he might lose work opportunities. “Recently I was working as an assistant cook – I have good knife skills,” Jimmy says. “One day my colleague cut her finger and confessed that she was worried she might have HIV. When I told her to do the ELISA test, she asked if I had been tested, if I had HIV. I said no and I thought: if an accident like that happened, and somebody got infected, they would test us all and I would be found out. So I quit.”

Still, Jimmy says that HIV hasn’t taken anything away from him. Rather, it has given him a new life. “I still go out with friends but I drink less, eat healthy food and get enough rest. I’m no longer that guy who shows up first to a party and is the last to leave. My life is better now because I have meaningful work to do.”

 

Last update: 19 July 2018.