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Wear the Gown: HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence

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Fear, stigma and ignorance defined the HIV and AIDS epidemics for decades.

These days, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer a death sentence.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1.1 million people are estimated to be living with HIV in the United States.

Although, one in seven people nationwide who have the disease, doesn’t know they are infected.

It’s why Tiffany Quinton is speaking out about her journey, living with HIV.

“The bombshell knocked me off my feet,” says Quinton.

Quinton was diagnosed with HIV in 1995. At the time, she was 26-years old, with a 9-month old son.

“The lady who gave me the results told me I was getting ready to die.”

After cycling through different medications, and with loads of support from family and friends, Quinton is thriving almost 25 years later.

“Three letters will not define who I am.”

HIV was officially recognized by the World Health Organization in 1981. It is the virus that causes AIDS, which is a condition.

Advancements in testing, treatment and prevention has helped many people get control of the disease. But Dr. Robin Hardwicke, a nurse practitioner and Ph.D. with UT Physicians, warns the epidemic isn’t over.

“People do still think they’re not going to get it, especially women” says Dr. Hardwicke. “But women are at a great risk and are rising in infection rates.”

She says the sooner someone is diagnosed, the more options a person will have in controlling the virus and preventing it from doing further damage to internal organs.

“If you change sexual partner within the time period you were last tested, the Hardwicke rule is get tested again,” says Dr. Hardwicke. “If you are a man who has sex once a year with other men, you should be tested once a year, no matter what.”

Quinton says she asked God for two things: “Let me live and let my baby be OK.”

Her wishes were granted, and every year she shows her gratitude by participating in the AIDS Walk and volunteering at a camp for kids with HIV.

“Wasn’t really planning on this being my life, but now that I’m on this journey, it has been so fulfilling.”