Ryan White. Real Lives. Meet Dee

| March 26, 2015 | 0 Comments
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In 2010, an estimated 4,690 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Oklahoma. The State of Oklahoma has not yet expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the lowest-income HIV+ residents of Oklahoma have been left out of coverage available in other states. They must rely on Ryan White funding for crucial medical care and other supportive services.

Ryan-White-Red-on-whiteDee
Oklahoma City, OK

I am 48 years old and have lived in the Oklahoma City Metro area for most of my life. I have been living with HIV in my body since my late 20s. Without the Ryan White programs in Oklahoma, I surely would have passed away a long time ago.

My family moved and left me to finish my last year of high school in the Metro area. But, I was not experienced with finances enough to keep an apartment, so I struggled to support myself and was eventually homeless. I dropped out of high school and have had full & part time low paying jobs ever since. Some with insurance, some without.

Twenty years ago, AZT was still the prescribed medication of choice by doctors in Oklahoma. When I found out that I was HIV-positive I did extensive research and realized that AZT was not helping patients long term. And that most had died. So I tried my best to keep myself healthy and off any medication as long as I could.

During this time I went to a few different clinics that were funded by the Ryan White programs. They monitored the level of HIV in my body through blood tests, as well as checking my general health.

When a health problem came up, they helped me get medications to take care of it. About 15 years ago my CD4 counts went below 200 and I had a couple of opportunistic infections. I was diagnosed with AIDS and again researched available medications. Luckily, the HIV/AIDS drug “cocktail” was available by then, and I started the medications immediately, thanks to Ryan White funding. My health rebounded quickly and within a year, I no longer had an AIDS diagnosis.

At different times in my life, I have accessed programs and services funded by Ryan White. I have seen an infectious disease doctor every 6 months. I have had assistance getting medications through HDAP programs. I have been able to see a dentist. I have gotten help with food at the Other Options Food Bank when needed. I have been able to see a therapist to deal with the mental side effects of the medications and the stigma of being HIV-positive. I have gone to drug and alcohol treatment, also partially funded by Ryan White, and am proud to have stayed sober for over 10 years.

The medications that I am prescribed would cost me over $4,000 a month if I did not get assistance from the Ryan White program. That is four times what I make in a month to pay rent, bills, food & transportation. My yearly hospital bills, even though I am healthy otherwise, average around $4,000 and include doctor visits and blood tests.

It has been my experience that stress, mental illness and addiction are the number one killers of people who have HIV or AIDS in 2015. Friends have passed away after being so stressed out about keeping a roof over their heads, and other problems, that they lost track of their medication schedule or became so despondent that they stopped taking them at all. Others have been unable to see or learn about a solution to their addiction problem and did the same. While others, like me, continue to lead healthy, productive, contributive lives accessing Ryan White programs as we need them.

Thank you for the opportunity to repay debts of gratitude and all of your help keeping the Ryan White Programs funded for those infected with HIV/AIDS.

Read other stories of people impacted by the Ryan White Care Act.


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Co-sponsors: AIDS United, Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative, Southern AIDS Coalition, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, HIVHealthReform.org, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

This campaign has been made possible by the generous support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

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Category: Ryan White. Real Lives.

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