SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - When today's Amazing Suncoast Woman, Valerie Wojciechowicz found out she was HIV positive she was devastated.
Valerie says, "Back then all we knew you are going to die. We had no medications, we had no hope. There was nothing. My doctor told me I had no more than 18 months to live."
She discovered she had gotten HIV 5 years before, when she was fighting an alcohol problem. But since then, she had gotten her life back together, and she was in great health. She was a yoga teacher.
Valerie says, "I was terrified and rightfully so, I was fired from a job, I was turned away from medical treatment, I had a guy look me in the eye and say, "Aids is God's way of weeding out the population." Then he said,"Those people deserve to die."
But Valerie did not die. Instead she built a good life. Now she manages CAN Community Health's Peer Navigator Program, where a person who has lived with HIV for some time, mentors others who are just starting the journey, or having problems along the way.
"We help them navigate the system, we help them take medication,we help them with friends and family members. A lot of people don't tell anyone, so for a lot of our clients dating is extremely difficult."
About ten years ago, Valerie realized how painful and demeaning certain words about Aids and HIV are. So she developed a program listing painful words and then the preferred words, a Composition Book she calls it
"It's a manifesto of how we want to be treated. You put the person before the diagnoses. If you say, I am a HIV survivor, or an HIV sufferer, you are making the disease the most important thing. If you say I am a woman living with HIV, and you make me the most important thing. If you put me first, I'm what matters."
And these Composition Books are now in Aids and HIV clinics all over the country, helping to reduce the stigma of those living with HIV thru the words we use.
For her life lesson,Valerie compares those dark hopeless days when she was first diagnosed to the joy she feels today, as she uses her experience to help others.
"I feel like everything that is seemingly bad and seemingly hopeless, can be turned into something positive."