Stephen's Story-by Brenda Jansen

"It doesn't mean it's the end of your life"

The immigration officer at the border didn’t expect "Stephen" to live very long, so he wrote the word “forever” in his passport. He and his brothers were returning to Malawi to get the medical attention he desperately needed. What that officer had seen was a gravely ill man, weighing just over 100 pounds. He was too weak to walk, talk or eat. He remembers being placed in a wheelchair, his head propped up for him, his powerless legs lifted to put his feet on the footrests.

His brothers convinced Stephen to get tested for HIV. He remembers feeling afraid, but he was willing. After learning that he tested positive, his sister encouraged him to get help at the Partners in Hope Medical Center (PIH). He recalls the kindness and respect shown to him at his first appointment. The nurses and doctors gave him food and his first dose of anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) for AIDS. Most importantly to him at that point was the “light” given him…the hope that, with treatment, he could still have a future.

After an early battle with meningitis, he began to improve on ARVs. He put back on some of the weight he’d lost, and he noticed that he felt much stronger. He attended the classes offered at PIH, which included information on nutrition, gardening and the importance of adhering to the medication regimen each day.

Stephen spoke of this time in his life being more than a physical recovery; it was also a spiritual one. He remembers feeling guilty about a girl he may have passed HIV onto. He imagined her parents taking him to court, ending up in prison. Then, in his mind, he stood before a door. He ‘heard’ a voice saying, “You have been forgiven. With your HIV, kneel down and receive God as your Savior.” He responded with a sincere and grateful heart that day.

With his renewed health, and gratitude for God’s forgiveness, he determined to tell his story to others. He has met with several pastors and gotten invitations to speak in their church services. He tells people, “With HIV, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life. When you know your condition, it’s the start of your life.” People find him afterward and thank him for his honesty. He says, “There are even pastors who have become open about their own HIV status. This makes their followers free to talk as well.”

Stephen has lost many friends to AIDS. “People are too shy about HIV, especially youth”, he says. “They refuse the help they need. They worry about what people will think of them. They assume they’re dying. If we don’t talk with them about HIV, we are just spoiling their futures.”

Today, Stephen weighs 175 pounds and radiates health and enthusiasm. He would say that he has a new lease on life, that he has “power to work” and earn a living. He has a deep purpose, that of encouraging others to know their HIV status, get the help they need, and get on with life. He said, “If I’m afraid to talk, I won’t help this world.”