Living With HIV: 'The Truth Sets Me Free'
May 18, 2009, —By Debbie DeVoe
The year 2006 wasn't such a good one for Mary Waithira
Kariuki. First, the 47-year-old Kenyan came down with pneumonia in July. During
her two-week hospital stay, the doctors also tested her for tuberculosis and
for HIV. Both tests came back positive.
When she heard the news, Mary didn't wail or cry. Living her
deep Catholic faith, she accepted her status right away. She knew God wouldn't
have her face anything more than she was capable of confronting. And she also
knew that her husband's drinking and loose ways might get her into trouble one
day. She just didn't know how much trouble.
The doctors put her on an eight-month course of treatment
for the tuberculosis. When her husband also tested positive for HIV, they
immediately put him on antiretroviral treatment due to his weakened immune
system. Unfortunately, neither treatment worked.
When Mary's first course of tuberculosis treatment failed,
her doctor started her on a second round and put her on antiretroviral
treatment as well. She quickly began feeling much better and stronger.
Then a few months later, in July 2007, Mary's right leg was
hit hard by a stone kicked up by a car on a Nairobi street. The leg swelled up
terribly and just wouldn't heal, so she returned to the hospital. The doctors
eventually recommended surgery and a six-month hospital stay to recuperate.
With Mary in the hospital, her husband had a hard time
caring for himself and their five children. He had stopped drinking when he
started taking antiretroviral medications, but, with his health further weakened
by diabetes, his liver failed.
"I trust in God. He's a caring God and a healer. In my heart I had great courage and faith that it wasn't my time to die."
~Mary Waithira Kariuki
One day, lying on her hospital bed a month after her
surgery, Mary was told her husband had died. She couldn't even get up to
comfort her children or take care of the funeral arrangements. Her sisters came
to town to help. Her 24-year-old son, though, would now need to care for all of
Good Medicine and Deep Faith
Somehow Mary survived four more months in the hospital and
then another three months at home in a wheelchair. Her eldest son continued to
care for both her and his siblings—with some help from friends—though Mary also
believes God cared for them all.
"I trust in God. He's a caring God and a healer,"
Mary says. "In my heart I had great courage and faith that it wasn't my
time to die." Without this faith, she is sure she wouldn't have survived.
And somehow, her children were able to feed themselves and her during her
Little by little, Mary's strength increased. Fortunately, as
a government employee with the Ministry of Lands, she had insurance to cover
her hospital stay and medical fees. She is now up and walking, though her leg
still aches from time to time. And she's working again, in a position closer to
her home that lets her sit and type instead of standing all day.
Sharing her Positive Spirit
Mary is thankful for the support and medications she
receives from Nazareth Hospital outside of Nairobi, one of the 27 faith-based
health facilities in Kenya that Catholic Relief Services supports through the
AIDSRelief consortium to provide HIV care and treatment. She is also thankful
for her HIV support group for giving her the additional emotional strength so
critical to healing.
Now Mary wants to make sure anyone living with HIV
understands that it is not a death sentence. If people are just willing to go
to their local hospital, they can get the medicine they need, typically free of
"The whole world needs to know, needs encouragement to
know you can live well," Mary explains. "I accept this is what God
wants me to face. Sharing the truth sets me free."
Debbie DeVoe is CRS' regional information officer in East
Africa based in Nairobi.