Emma's Story-by Brenda Jansen

“HIV divides, but it also brings people together.”

Losing her father when she was a teenager impacted Emma’s life more deeply than she understood then. Her longing for a sense of family and security lead her to join a group of girls who took her further down a path of despair, for they were prostitutes. The next seven years in this lifestyle would prove to cause more pain, guilt and disease than she could have anticipated.

Years later, a severe headache and stiff neck sent her to a doctor for help. Treating her with antibiotics dealt with the acute problem, but there was something much more serious and life threatening going on in her body; it just hadn’t yet been exposed. Three years later, it was the pain of shingles, a fast heart rate, and weakness that drove her to the doctor again. And it was then that she had an HIV test.... she was positive.

She had 3 young sons by that time, with no husband/father to care for them. How would she manage? She turned to her mother and sisters for assistance, only to have them push her away, saying that she would have to deal with this alone. Thankfully, she did have some friends who stood by her, and they continue to do so to this day. In her own words, “HIV divides, but it also brings people together."

Alone in her house one day, still suffering from the shingles and very low in spirit, she watched a TV pastor talk about Jesus. He encouraged viewers to surrender the pain of their past, and to receive His forgiveness and love. As though he was talking to her personally, she responded by tearfully confessing her sins to God, handing over the guilt she carried from her past, and receiving the peace that she so desperately needed. She then began attending the church she had belonged to years before, but as a new person, a forgiven one. Over the next several years, she grew in her faith in Jesus, and her love for Him.

Though she was HIV positive, her immune system remained strong enough to hold off the need for treatment. In fact, ten healthy years passed by. During that time, she shared her story in many churches, schools, hospitals, and with individuals in her home. Emma shared the hope that she had found with countless people, including groups of teenage girls, warning them of the risks of bad choices that can impact their futures. She said to me, “If someone had taught and warned me about the dangers, I never would have gotten involved in prostitution.” She doesn’t want other girls to suffer like she has.

Just a few months ago, her health declined, and it was suggested that she see a doctor at the Partners in Hope Medical Center (PIH). She learned that her CD4 count (blood test indicator) was down to 12!  Given that patients often begin treatment when it drops below 250, this was quite alarming. Dr. Jansen did recommend beginning antiretroviral therapy (AIDS medications), and she has regained her health and strength since then.

Soon after her initial appointment with Dr. Jansen, her youngest son began showing signs that he too might have been infected with HIV. She convinced him to come into the medical center with her, explaining that knowing the truth would be very important for his health. After having some pre-test counseling, he bravely agreed to have a blood sample taken. Moments later, Dr. Jansen came in to talk with Emma and her son, giving them the sad news. He recalls, “I was moved, seeing the tears well up in this 9-year-old boy’s eyes and then roll down his cheeks.” He talked gently with him, relieving some of his fears, explaining that kids with HIV can live fairly normal lives. He encouraged him to continue reaching for his dream of someday becoming an accountant.

Emma was deeply grateful for the way that Dr. Jansen handled the situation, telling me, “Our friendship with him made it easier. We trust him.” For her son’s sake, she maintained her composure during the doctor visit, but then went to a nearby restroom to cry. The weight of regret was heavy on her as she accepted that the virus would have been passed from her to her innocent son at the time of his birth.

Though she lives with the harsh realities and consequences of her past, Emma doesn’t live a sad, sickly life. She lives under the umbrella of God’s love and forgiveness, with freedom from guilt and fear. She often prays, “Lord, it’s because of You that I live." Deep peace and joy radiated from her beautiful face as she spoke. She said, “The whole world might not know me, but God knows me. My name is written in the Book of Life."