There are some unforgettable chapters in everyone's lives. Like so many living with chronic illnesses, Shirley has had more than her share.
Shirley learned that she was HIV positive in 1992, 10 years after receiving a blood transfusion. Shirley kept her HIV status hidden from her daughter, co-workers and friends. She was convinced that everyone would judge her for being HIV+.
As the physical effects of HIV became more visible, Shirley remembers, “I was in denial. I told everyone that I was sick with Leukemia and under a lot of stress from my job.”
Shirley’s life then began a downward spiral. She became addicted to drugs and relinquished care of her daughter. “My daughter was only twelve and her dad stepped in because of the addiction and I’m very grateful that he did. I was in the house across the street when I saw her father take her from our home. I watched her out the window. I was still using and I know it was hard for her. It hurt her a lot. I knew her father would keep her safe and that she still had unconditional love for me.”
Shirley came to Trillium Health in 2009, feeling ill and hopeless. She told an Trillium Health Patient Care Specialist, “Don’t let me leave, because if you do I’m gonna kill myself.” With help from Trillium Health, Shirley was admitted for psychiatric care, and later into a drug rehabilitation center. Shirley recalls, “She went above and beyond the call of duty to help me that day, and got me into the psychiatric emergency department. Following that I was in substance abuse treatment for twenty-one days. After that, I never looked back. Today I call this woman my guardian angel. Every year on March 3, I bring her an angel to celebrate how far we’ve come – how far I’ve come. If she hadn’t been there for me that day, I don’t know where I would be”.
Shirley soon learned from an Trillium Health physician that in addition to being HIV-positive, she had been co-infected with Hepatitis-C from the blood transfusion all those years ago. Shirley was devastated, but once again relied on the support of Trillium Health’s staff to learn about her options to treat the Hepatitis C. After a year of treatment, Shirley received the news that the treatment was successful and she was cured. Shirley’s care team recalls, “Shirley was an amazing patient/student during her Hepatitis C treatment because she took the guidance of Trillium Health’s providers seriously”.
In early 2012, Shirley became a paid Hepatitis C peer for Trillium Health. As a peer, Shirley is educating and supporting others who are at-risk for or living with Hepatitis C. “I visit drug rehab centers to do presentations. I go to Trillium Health’s health outreach site on Central Avenue and set up educational tables. I do a lot of advocating now. I’m so happy to have this position. I was so angry when I came here. I’m so much better, people can’t believe it.
Through Trillium Health’s continuum of care and support, Shirley is healthy and moving forward with her life. Trillium Health staff has consistently remarked, “The transformation of Shirley is remarkable! Her courage is inspirational.”
“I did a complete 180 in my life within three years,” says Shirley, “I never thought I would be working again. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a counselor. And now I am. Isn’t that ironic, how things turn around?”