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Side Effects is a health news service exploring the impacts of place, policy and economics on Americans’ health.

This Woman Has Lived With HIV For More Than 30 Years. Listen To Her Experience With The Virus.

Shelia Muhammad, center, with her daughter Nicole Galloway and son Hakim Muhammad.
Submitted Photo
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Sheila Muhammad
Shelia Muhammad, center, with her daughter Nicole Galloway and son Hakim Muhammad.

Sheila Muhammad tested positive for HIV more than 30 years ago and her life quickly changed. But as the years passed, attitudes and treatments of HIV changed.

Muhammad spoke with Side Effects Public Media's Darian Benson about the power in education and understanding of the virus. A transcript of Muhammad's comments is below.

“My name is Sheila Mohammed I'm 57 years old. I have three children and seven grandchildren and four great.

I actually got it… 1990. Yeah, I think it was January of 1990, that’s what it was, because I was pregnant with my son. Well, actually, my husband was the first one. He was messing around with the IV drugs. And I had to put him in a rehab hospital. And while he was there, they did the testing. And then he called me and told me the terrible news.

Just kept crying, stayed in the bed and just cried, cried, cried. Prayed and cried.

Women, we have our children. You know, if you have children, that's probably the thing we have to do most — take care of our children. We have to still cook and clean and, you know, do all the things that you know, a mom would do. Still dealing with, you know, our own issues.

sheila-headshot-1.jpg

I was kind of worried that after my husband died ... I'm visually impaired, so I kind of thought, you know, people would — social workers or whatever — would come to my house and tell me I'm not doing a good job with my kids because I have this going on, and I'm blind, and you know, and all of that.

I can honestly say, I have lost a lot of friends, people who I thought were friends, through this process of being ill. But I've also gained a lot of other true friends. And, you know, you just find out who your true friends are when you're in a crisis.

When HIV came out, it scared everybody. So I think basically, it just kind of scared people away, because they didn't know, you know, how, you know, you can get it, you know? If you shook hands with them or whatever. So, yeah, I think that was, you know, part of the problem of losing friends. But then also, it is just the ignorance of people, you know, when they don't educate themselves.

Thankfully, it has changed, there's a lot of education, stuff out there. And people have changed.

We have support groups, they start and stop off and on, but when we do have them, I'm usually there.

It's very important, because, you know, a lot of us women, sometimes we feel like we don't have anybody to talk to. And it's always good, if you can find that one, you know, you always think you're alone. And there's always that one person that is finally dealing with the same thing, and you won't know until you come together and start talking. And then you find out, wow, we're dealing with the same thing.

It’s not a death sentence that it used to be, and people do want to learn about it and understand it and stuff. So no, it's not that same scare that it was, like 20, 30 years ago. No, no people are understanding it, and they really, you know, dealing with people who have it and understanding of what they go through.

You definitely need to get educated. I mean, there's always room for more. You know, if they found a cure, that would be wonderful.

You can live with this virus, you can have a very good life, living with the virus.”

This story is the third and final part of a series focused on HIV infections in Black women. To read the first story, click here. To read the second story, click here.

Copyright 2021 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.