Mildred Richards has been a patient at Regional One Health’s Adult Special Care Center for 16 years, living proof that advances in HIV treatment are giving patients a new lease on life.
Mildred had just had a baby, who is HIV-negative. She was afraid to kiss or even touch her own child out of fear of transferring the virus.
“My family shut me out. People talked about me behind my back. I lost everything and everybody I ever had because of that diagnosis. When I walked into the Adult Special Care Center, I was homeless, hopeless, and ready to die.”
That’s when everything changed.
Mildred said, “As soon as I walked through that door, Melissa Wright came over and hugged me. I had not been hugged by anyone since the diagnosis. I just stood there and cried.”
“And I said, ‘You’re not supposed to do that, ma’am. I’m HIV positive,’” Mildred added. “But she didn’t care. She held my hand and walked me through my options. She found a shelter for me and my children to stay in. And every evening after work, she came by to see how I was doing.”
The center set Mildred up with Regional One Health Nurse Practitioner Marye Bernard to oversee her medical care. She helped Mildred reduce her viral count until it is undetectable in blood tests.
“I’ve been undetectable for the past 10 years,” she says proudly. “It’s allowed me to be healthy and to be the mom I want to be. It’s allowed me to travel the world as an ambassador for HIV patients and treatments.”
The center staff also assisted Mildred with getting her GED. “Members of the staff showed up at my graduation,” she says with a catch in her throat. “My family wasn’t there, but they were. They are my family.”
Then something happened that Mildred never expected to happen again. She met a man who didn’t run away when he learned she was HIV-positive. They fell in love and got married. Once again, members of the Adult Special Care Center attended this very special event in Mildred’s life.
“They’ve never missed a milestone,” Mildred says. “My children know everyone at the center—every case manager, every doctor, every nurse, because these are their aunts and uncles. We are family.”
“I think that place is heaven-sent,” she says. “When I went there, I forgot about my circumstances. I forgot about my diagnosis. I slowly became Mildred again. And it felt so good to be me again.”
Today, Mildred gives back by mentoring newly diagnosed HIV patients at the Mid- South nonprofit organization Friends for Life. She’s quick to refer people to the center. “I tell people that this is the place that renewed my hope and taught me to love myself again. I am who I am today because of the wonderful people at the Adult Special Care Center.”