Speaker presents firsthand account of living with HIV

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Hannah Hunsinger | Collegian Audience members listen to Christina Rock’s presentation “Does HIV Look Like Me?” in the K-State Student Union’s Little Theatre Thursday night.

The K-State
Student Union Little Theatre housed a group Thursday night
for an emotionally-charged, firsthand account of the challenges of living with
HIV. The goal of the presentation was to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.

The Union
Program Council-sponsored event “Does HIV Look Like Me?” brought the story of
Christina Rock to Manhattan.

Rock, who
works with the organization Hope’s Voice, tested positive for HIV before she
was 3 years old during a time when testing positive for HIV meant a greater
chance of death than it does today.

The source
of Rock’s infection was her mother, most likely through breast milk, Rock said.

“You might
as well start planning your funeral,” Rock said, concerning what it was like to be
diagnosed in the 1980s.

Rock said
the doctors told her father she probably wouldn’t live past the age of 10
because of the lack of treatment options.

When new
medicine came about in 1996, Rock, then 12 years old, said she was severely sick and “ready to die.”

The new
medicine saved her life. Eventually Rock began speaking publicly about her story, hoping her openness would spread awareness throughout
the upcoming generation. 

“This
generation can be the generation that can end AIDS,” Rock said. “You do that by
talking. Talking about your status. Going with friends and getting tested to
find out their status. Just talking and sharing information. And
erasing the stigma that surrounds it.”

Rock, who
has stabilized her condition to a very low HIV virus count, now has two healthy
children and a husband who are not infected with the HIV virus.

For Tyler
Jameson, sophomore in secondary education, Rock’s story hit a personal note.

Jameson
said he has a close friend who is HIV-positive and that it was comforting to hear
another perspective from someone who has lived through a similar situation.

“It was
really beneficial because, though me and my friend have talked about it, it’s
like one of those things that we don’t really talk about,” Jameson said. “But
it was really nurturing to realize that it’s not just him. He’s not alone.”

Rock broke
her presentation into three parts: HIV and AIDS 101, her personal
story and a question and answer session.

Pointing
out common misconceptions about HIV is one area Rock focused on. The first common
confusion Rock noted was that just because a person is infected with HIV doesn’t mean they have AIDS.

“A lot of
people get those two words confused and think they are the exact same thing,”
Rock said. “HIV is a virus. AIDS is a clinical diagnosis.”

Rock also
clarified a few of the ways HIV can be contracted, including unprotected sex,
unsanitary needles for drug use and even breast milk.

“The breast
is not always the best,” Rock said, getting a laugh out of the audience, which
she did often throughout her presentation.

Courtney
Kolterman, senior in public health nutrition, said Rock’s personal story concerning how she became infected with HIV was probably the most beneficial
aspect of her presentation.

“I think
that in a way she’s kind of educating others on the different ways to transmit
it. It’s not just through having sex. It can be through breast milk like she
said,” Kolterman said. “I think it’s just raising awareness that there are
those misconceptions and we need to clarify those.”

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