HIV activist gives human face to virus
Young people — determined, idealistic and impetuous — often cloak their realities with a false sense of invincibility. When reminders of mortality come crashing down, they do so without warning.
In 1993, when Antonia Correa was a senior at USF, she was diagnosed with HIV. The story of her diagnosis is one she has recounted time and time again over the years. Tonight she will tell it again as part of her speech as one of keynote speakers of Volunteer USF’s World AIDS Day commemoration at 7 p.m. in the MLK Plaza.
Correa, now in her thirties, found out she contracted the virus when her three-month-old daughter became seriously ill and the doctors had trouble with the diagnosis.
“The doctors said, ‘We need to rule out HIV,'” Correa said.
Her daughter’s test, as well as her own, returned positive. Having contracted the virus through unprotected sex, Correa said she infected her daughter while still carrying her in the womb.
“I gave it to my daughter,” she said. “It’s a horrible way to find out.”
Correa described herself as being a normal student who came from a good family and was not addicted to drugs.
“For that little bit of pleasure, you have a lifetime of grief. It affects everything,” she said.Her father, a doctor, helped his family whenever they were sick, she said.
“Growing up, when I was sick, he would fix me up,” Correa said. “He couldn’t do it this time.”
Because she doesn’t appear sick, most people don’t believe her when she tells them she has the virus, she said. The years since she was diagnosed have been more than rough. She has been in and out of the hospital, she said, recalling how only a month ago she woke up in the hospital unaware of how she got there.
“My family was there,” she said. “I had suffered seizures.”
By simply being alive, Correa feels she and her daughter are beating the odds. Most of the people she has met with the virus over the years have died, she said.
“We’re just too stubborn to die,” she said. “Neither of us should be here. It’s a miracle.”
For the past several years, Correa has been educating students. With World AIDS Day approaching, she contacted Volunteer USF.
Stephanie Valery, a student member of the organization, helped spearhead the event, which has taken a month of preparation. After hearing Correa’s story, she said she felt the need to do something.
“I feel students are not well informed about the virus,” Valery said. “My life can’t compare to what she goes through every day.”
Along with other members of Volunteer USF, Valery contacted other local organizations to sponsor the event. The sponsors, including the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance and the Tampa Bay AIDS Network, will have information booths set up.
Free and confidential HIV testing will be available today at Student Health Services from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Performances by the USF Gospel Choir and One Accord Dance Troupe will also be featured. The event will end with a candlelight vigil.