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Nurse lives life, battles HIV

By Trina Trice

Every day Constance Taylor helps patients at the Good Samaritans Clinic in Atlanta improve their health and well-being.

Every day she has to do the same thing for herself with her mind.

Taylor, 27, tested positive for Human Immunodeficiency Virus also known as HIV in October 2001.

In metro Atlanta there "is a particularly fairly high (number of) cases of African-Americans infected with AIDS," said Sheila McGhee, communications director for the Georgia Office of Minority Health. Of the AIDS cases reported "in Georgia last year, 62 percent were African-Americans. African-American women compose 83 percent of those cases. It's very disproportionate" among the races and the sexes.

Although African-Americans make up more than half of the reported cumulative AIDS cases in Georgia, they make up only 29 percent of the population.

Before Taylor got tested in July 2001, the former Clayton County resident was a stripper. Once she decided to turn her life around and pursue a career in nursing, Taylor said she knew she would have to get tested.

Taylor's July test result for HIV were negative. But she knew she'd have to have another test three months later.

The virus will multiply in the body for a few weeks or even months before the immune system responds. During this time, a person won't test positive for HIV but can infect other people.

According to AIDS.ORG:

"You might not know if you get infected by HIV. Some people get fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, stomach ache, swollen lymph glands, or a skin rash for one or two weeks. Most people think it's the flu. Some people have no symptoms. When your immune system responds, it starts to make antibodies. When this happens, you will test positive for HIV."

Education is key, McGhee said.

McGhee recently worked in conjunction with the National Minority Aids Council, an organization that strives to provide continual education for health care providers, with a week-long conference.

Sandy Buchard, a case manager for the Clayton County Health Department, heads the AIDS Consortium of Clayton County, yet another information source for health care professionals.

Buchard said the HIV clinic in Clayton County currently treats 100 infected residents.

"There are approximately 240 HIV positive clients that live in or get their health care in Clayton County," Buchard said.

Buchard also works with AID Atlanta, a resource for those living with AIDS or are HIV positive.

"You have all of these organizations that don't have a lot of help," McGhee said. "People should always know what's available in their communities. As small as they may be, you've got to empower that community to get the word out.

"Even though it's not the disease of the moment, cases are still rising. It's so strongly affecting women. African-American and Latino women are the most affected. Women have got to start claiming their bodies back."

Taylor is pursuing her goals and claiming her life back.

She remembers, though, the moment she found out she was HIV positive:

"At first, I was like, ?Okay, they don't have the right person,'" Taylor said. "Then it hit me. I was crying for days. At the time I was in nursing school, I wanted to drop out of school. Then, my next thought was revenge. I thought about going around and infecting everybody. But because I know me, I knew I couldn't do that. I told myself, ?It would be wrong of you, you put yourself in this situation.' Then, I started thinking of death. I thought it would be immediate."

Once Taylor decided to go on living, she completed some of her college work to become a nursing assistant.

"I go to my doctor's appointments," Taylor said. "I really don't try to think about it too much. Being in the medical field, it's really hard for me. I can pretty much get sick at the drop of a dime because I'm positive."

Although her family is still trying to cope with her disease, Taylor says her friends have offered the most support.

Taylor currently lives with co-worker Joi Davis in Henry County.

Davis said she didn't hesitate to help Taylor "because she needed a place to stay. As a Christian, I've fallen many times and the Lord sent some one my way to pick me up. She needed a place to stay and I would hope someone would do the same for me.

"I don't even think about" Taylor being HIV positive, Davis said. "Afterwards I have thought, well, I have three children, but I trust the Lord won't let anything happen. I trust that they'll be all right."

Taylor oftentimes has difficulty sharing the truth about her disease with potential boyfriends: "They get scared, but I really don't dwell on it. If I have a boyfriend, I have a boyfriend. If I don't, then I don't."

Taylor would like to go back to school to become a registered nurse, she said.

About living with HIV Taylor said, "I feel like I can't let it get me down or it's just going to go down hill from there."

About HIV and AIDS in Georgia's minority communities:

African Americans make up approximately 62 percent of the total reported cumulative AIDS cases in Georgia.

African American women comprise 83 percent of the total reported cumulative AIDS cases among women in Georgia.

African American children make up 78 percent of all reported pediatric cases in Georgia.

Among African American women with AIDS in Georgia, 44 percent of them got the infection through heterosexual contact, and 26 percent had no identified risk factor.

Only 55 percent of Georgians have had their blood tested for HIV. Of those who have been tested, only 88 percent received their results.

There were 24,406 AIDS cases reported in Georgia in 2001.

Georgia ranks eighth among all states in the number of AIDS cases in the U.S.