Shelby: Yesterday, the global community came together to mark World AIDS Day and stand with the 34 million people who are currently living with HIV/AIDS. One of the crucial battles in the fight against HIV is education. So Scott Evans met up with a teen who is on a mission to teach others about the virus.
Paige Rawl: Growing up, for me, it was just some normal thing that I had to do everyday, taking medication. My mom and I, we called it ‘yucky’ as a kid because I absolutely hated it. Like, she’s like, you know, ‘It’s time to come take your yucky.’
Scott: Meet Paige Rawl, a 19-year-old student at Ball State University who has been living with HIV her entire life.
Paige: Right before my 3rd birthday, I was diagnosed HIV positive. My mother had passed it along to me when I was born and she had contracted it from my father.
Scott: HIV spreads through bodily fluids, like blood. The virus can cause AIDS, a deadly disease which kills thousands the every year.
Paige remembers her last visit with her father who she hadn’t seen in years. He was in the hospital sick with an AIDS-related illness.
Paige: By the time we got there he was at the state where he wasn’t able to talk, he wasn’t able to get up out of bed or anything. He was just so sick.
Scott: He died shortly after that visit. Paige was just six years old.
What would you say if he was here?
Paige: You know, I just wish I could ask him, how come you didn’t want to see me or why didn’t you make an effort?
Scott: According to the CDC, in 2009 there were an estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States and 1 in 5 had no idea they were infected. And in 2011, there were an estimated 127 cases of perinatal infection, the same type of transmission that Paige experienced.
Paige: I realized, you know, I had something that not everybody is going to accept me for.
Scott: In the 6th grade, she told a close friend that she had HIV. Within weeks, the entire school knew. She was teased and bullied by not only students, but she says even her soccer coach.
Paige: My soccer coach had made a joke to my mom saying that we could use my HIV status to our advantage and the players on the other team would be afraid to touch me and I could score goals and…
Paige: The principle told my mom and I that she wishes I could go here, but that she can’t promise to protect me.
Scott: The constant teasing took a toll.
Paige: I went through so much, to the point where I was having stress-induced seizures for nine months. I also lost up to 19 pounds. My hair started falling out. My health kind of deteriorated after a while just because of everything I was going through.
Scott: She left school and finished on her own. Those days were some of the hardest she has ever had to face, but she also found her passion for empowering young people to stand up against bullies.
Paige: Within a couple of months of leaving this school, I went on my first AIDS walk. I was exposed to a whole new community that I had no idea existed and I just realized that there are a lot of people that are having to kind of fight and go through what I was going through.
Scott: Within weeks, she was speaking at her first event, sharing her story.
Paige: I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer kind of had to hide this thing about me anymore.
Scott: Now she travels the country spreading her message of strength in the face of adversity. She has been featured in documentaries, magazines and papers. She was even Miss Teen Indiana Essence. And now, a book due out next year. She hopes her work will help break the stigma that is still associated with HIV.
Paige: There is no look to being HIV positive. People who are positive are normal people too.
I have just an antibiotic that I’m on right now.
Scott: And though there have been major advances in detection and treatment, right now, there is still no cure for HIV.
Paige: I have a weaker immune system than others so I can kind of get sick easier. And so, if I get a cold or a viral infection, I have to go and get antibiotics right away so it doesn’t turn into something else.
The only cure right now is education. So, the more people know about HIV, the more they’ll be educated about the risks.
Scott: Are you dating? How do you approach that situation?
Paige: I do have a boyfriend right now. He actually does not live in Indiana. He goes to school out of state. I take a completely different approach than some of the other people I have met that are HIV positive. I like to get it out there in the open in the beginning and so that way, if they have a problem, that saves me from getting hurt, them from getting hurt.
Scott: Are there ever hard days?
Paige: I still have my days where I’m like, ‘what did I do to deserve this, why can’t I just be like anybody else? But I went through such a hard time to kind of help those kids that might go through a hard time in the future.
Scott: Scott Evans, Channel One News.
Shelby: To learn how you can make an impact in the fight against HIV, head over to Channelone.com.