Adoption, Family, HIV/AIDS Education


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Friday, February 28, 2014

Grateful Hearts--St. Jude Childrens's Research Hospital

I'm incredibly touched by all the kind words, prayers and people who have been moved by our story as told by my husband in the Winter/2014 issue of PROMISE. This made me cry. Please follow the link and then share St. Jude's page on your FB to help support the wonderful work of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I can't even put into words what they've met to our family. Thank you with all my heart for your support of St. Jude and their commitment to research and saving families. God Bless.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"A Mother's Story"

In honor of this upcoming National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day:

"A Mother's Story" as it appeared in The Huffington Post by Suzan Stirling 
My name is Suzan. I'm an ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, where I advocate for people to join the fight of mothers around the world to protect their children from HIV. I'm also the author ofThe Silence of Mercy Bleu -- a story about a young woman who grows up harboring the secret of AIDS.
When people ask me what propelled me to write a novel about HIV/AIDS, they're often surprised to learn that I am a (now 27-year) survivor of the disease. But unlike my character, Mercy, who grows up with the disease and later strives to have a healthy baby, I didn't learn the truth until it was almost too late.
I met and married the love of my life in 1988, and a couple of years later we decided to start a family. In 1990, our wish came true and we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives. In those early years, everything was perfect.
But then in 1996, shortly after the birth of our second child, something began to go terribly wrong. In the matter of a few months, both of our children became very sick.
Alee, our then 5 year-old daughter, began to rapidly lose weight. At the same time, our newborn baby, Mitch, had to be put on a respirator in the ICU, where he would spend weeks fighting a respiratory virus his young body couldn't fend off.
The doctors were candid -- things weren't looking good. There were numerous tests and long hospital stays, but still we had no answers. It was a parent's worst nightmare. We were losing both of our children and no one could tell us why.
I'll never forget the phone call that saved my children's lives. It was a new doctor. She was quick to the point. She said, "Something in your son's blood work warrants an AIDS test. I suggest your whole family be tested."
I was in complete shock. I just remember thinking, "I'm going to have to watch my children die." I didn't think I was strong enough to handle that.

We took our HIV tests, and tragically, our doctor was dead on. I tested positive for HIV. So did Alee and Mitch. We were very lucky in that my husband was negative.
Almost overnight, my family became just another face of AIDS.
It wasn't hard to trace where I'd contracted the virus. Before I'd met my husband, I'd been engaged to a young man who I was later told had died of cancer, but who I now believe died of AIDS. I had carried the virus for nearly 10 years without ever knowing it.
My husband and I nearly lost Alee and Mitchell that year, but 1996 -- the year we were diagnosed -- was also the same year that protease inhibitors became available. My husband and I would crush the blue pills into pudding, clap and cheer, and somehow our children would manage to swallow the brown, sticky mess.
Daily, we saw improvements. This new medicine, in combination with two others, literally brought our children back to us. It was and still is the most miraculous thing that I have ever witnessed.
People often ask me how HIV has changed me, and I almost want to say, "How has it not changed me?" To be completely honest, you can't go through what I've been through -- any life-threatening illness really -- and not come out a completely changed person. HIV is even more difficult because it's a disease that many people suffer with in silence, myself included, for many years.
There were so many things that my family and I had to work through to get to where we are today. HIV forced me to be a much braver, more open person, and I'm thankful for that.
It's never easy for me to share my story, but I think it's important for me -- especially as a mother -- to do so. Today, with medicines that drive the virus to undetectable levels, there is now more hope than ever of staying healthy and stopping HIV transmission. This means being able to protect your partner from the virus, and being able to have a child born free of HIV.
My husband and I were fortunate. We didn't lose our children. The same can't be said for families in other parts of the world, like Africa where our youngest son Yonas was born.
Every day around the world, one thousand mothers -- many of them unaware that they carry HIV-transmit the virus to their own babies in utero, during labor, or through breastfeeding. Without access to the right medicines, they are helpless to protect their own health and that of their babies. Being a mother with three children who are all positive, yet remarkably healthy, I can only imagine what that feels like.
The hardest part of my having HIV was never that I might die -- the hardest part was that I had given this terrible disease to my children. No mother should have to carry that burden. Not today, not ever. Especially when mother-to-child transmission of HIV is completely preventable. With preventative services, the chances of a mother passing the virus on to her children are extremely low -- less than 2 percent. Those are some pretty terrific odds.
We can stop mothers and their children from dying. Really, we can. I know because I've seen it with my own eyes, with my own family.
It's been 16 years now since my children's health was restored. I will get to see my children grow up, and I know that for a parent, there's no greater gift.
As an ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, I get the privilege of joining in the fight to eliminate pediatric AIDS. The work done by the Foundation and its partners around the world is saving children's lives and sparing families unimaginable heartache.
The Foundation has made huge strides to help mothers like me, and lifesaving medicines are now reaching more people than ever. You can be a part of that progress.
Join the fight of mothers around the world, and help us get closer to a new generation born free of HIV.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ode to AIDS


I want to share this poem that I wrote some years back, when my children were still quite young and I had to face the very real possibility that I could succumb to AIDS and leave them motherless. Chances are, if you're reading this post you either know someone or have lost someone to HIV/AIDS. This is for you. 


        
Where You'll Find Me 


Where crimson clouds blaze bold
And tree,
A charcoal silhouette stands tall against a crooked sky
Here is where you'll find me.

Where delicate vines cling ‘round tree’s trunk
Breathe in the tall, sweet grass
This is where you’ll find me.

Initials carved into knotty bark
A token of my love for you.

When winds gust autumn
And trees rain gold upon the muddy Earth below
If you should need me,
Here is where you’ll find me.

I’ll rest beneath the untouched snow
Until doves come calling and mystic rivers flow.

Forget me not, for one hundred years from now
Here is where you'll find me
Waiting, one with all God’s creation
To once again be born anew.

~Suzan Meredith


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Today is World AIDS Day



This morning when I awoke all of the rooms of my house were dark. One of our cats, an orange feline with large yellow eyes, trailed behind as I made my way into the kitchen hoping for a quiet hour or two to write before daybreak and my family awakened.  And then I remembered what today was.

The clock on the mantle glowed 6:25am as I took a sip of java and then lit all seven candles in prayer.

Today is World AIDS Day, a time of reflection and a time for raising awareness.

Perhaps you know someone with HIV or have lost a loved one to AIDS. That’s why you care. Maybe your life depends on a cure. That’s why you care. Maybe you’re a research scientist working day in and day out to make a difference, to one day find a cure. You care. Maybe you’re an orphaned child with big dreams and all your life you’ve been living with AIDS because your mother never knew she had it. The world cares. Maybe you're a young man or woman living with HIV in secret because you’re afraid that no one will care. Know that someone cares.

Maybe we’re all in this together. Maybe, just like me, you have to care.

A quiet moment, a simple prayer. I blow out the candles as daylight and the sound of my children's footsteps fill the house, and I am so grateful for the many people in our world who care. Wishing you love, health, and hope this day and many more to come.






Monday, October 14, 2013

The Finish Line


This year marked the 20th annual AIDS WALK for Louisville! We couldn't have asked for a better day and I have many people to thank for making this day possible. A big thanks to Brad Hampton, the Walk's Event Director, for providing a golf cart for my children, so that they were able to participate in Louisville's AIDS Walk for the very first time. I can't tell you how special that made the day for my husband and I.

I also have to give a shout-out to Monkey Drive Screen printing for putting a rush on our T-shirts. They turned out A-mazing! But the biggest thanks of all goes to my husband, for just being the man and husband that you are, and for making "impossible" things possible. It's because of your determination and refusal to ever give up that we are healthy and well today. I love you.


Another big first was viewing a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling that it evokes. Yes, sadness, but also peace, love and an incredible spirit from those whose lives each square represents.  A few minutes before the walk began, I noticed that Yonas, my eleven-year-old, had strayed from the pack and wondered over to The Great Lawn, a grassy area where pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display. I walked over to him, and together we walked the aisles, viewing the names and precious keepsakes sewn into the fabric squares. Suddenly Yonas stopped.

"Hey Mom." Yonas reached my hand. "Look at this one," he said. The quilted square he pointed to was that of four white doves in flight that circled a poem titled, "White Wing Doves."

To be just like the white wing dove 
With a spirit that flys so wild and free
Even though all our fears and pain
We must find and get through within our soul
Our spirit inside tries hard to just let it be
Even all the tears and sorrows we'll have for life
The spirit will find the peace from within
So I pray to you dear Lord to please
Bless all spirits to be like white wing doves
With a blessing forever to fly so free
Just spread you wings.

~Michael D'Wayne Arder

I thought of my son as he read this poem out loud, and how ironic that his name, Yonas, in his native language (Amharic) means "White Dove," and it was all I could do to hold back my tears. We stood there for only a few moments, before I whispered, "Come on, time to go." Dawn G had just announced that the walk was ready to begin.

The ribbon, cut, fell to the ground and off the crowd went. Through the sea of people, I watched my family in front of me and I held tight to my husband's hand. "Thank you, God," I whispered.

I couldn't have asked for a better day, and as we crossed the finish line at this year's Louisville AIDS Walk, I was struck with this tremendous feeling of awe.

You see, that finish line symbolizes something far deeper for me. The end of AIDS. We will see that day and somewhere, watching over us, is an angel named Michael, whose life and struggle will never be forgotton.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trick or Treat : )


My Little Kitchen Witch

Happy October! It's no "trick" that this is my favorite time of year so you know it's been a real "treat" pulling out the Halloween gear today : ) While I've been lighting pumpkin spice candles and toting my youngest back and forth to football, my husband, a former Marine, has been busy raising money for Titan Marine Wounded Warrior Project Benefit. The WWP event, which will include music, food, bar and silent auction, will commence on the eve of November 2nd, 2013 so be sure and check them out on FB!   


I'm also happy to share that for the first time all three of my children will be walking in this year's Louisville AIDS and Pet Walk  to be held Oct. 13th at Waterfront Park. The only hitch is that I have to okay a different mode of transport through the walk facilitators. Once I have the okay, we'll be able to register! My big wish for Oct. is for two Segway motor scooters, or a golf cart (that can be rented or donated for the day) so that my two oldest children, who both have disabilities that make walking long distances difficult, can participate! The walk will benefit Volunteers of America, a wonderful community based help organization whose mission is to help people living with HIV. I'll be creating an "event" to be posted a bit later for anyone who'd like to sponsor our walk. Our goal is to raise $500 for VOA and we will match whatever is raised! If not for this wonderful  "helping" organization many people in my community with HIV would go without such fundamental needs as shelter, food, and health care


These are the facts: 


AIDS related deaths in the US alone are estimated to be more than 650,000. That's more American casualties that WWI, WWII, The Korean War, and Vietnam combined. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around those statistics, but there they are. Would you believe that worldwide AIDS has claimed a staggering 35 million men, women and children? That takes a moment to sink in, doesn't it? Unfortunately, these numbers don't lie, and I think we can all agree that a new strategy is in order. 


The great news is that for the first time we have real hope that a solution to AIDS is within reach. One step, one more scientific break and we could very well have the cure. Be it cancer, the homeless, the disabled, or AIDS, all it takes is just one person to make a difference. My adopted son was saved by one American missionary who saw his need. One person can change someone's  life. 



My hope for you this month is that should you come across a mother who cannot give her children enough, you'll fill up a box with presents, or should you see a beggar in the street that you reach into your pocket. And if you believe for something crazy, like a cure for AIDS, that you'll have the courage to fight for it with all your heart. I hope that your month is full of rewards and all the good that you do comes back to you ten-fold. Happy Trick-or-Treat!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Closer to a CURE


For the last sixteen years (since my children's diagnosis) all of my most important choices have revolved around this one, larger than life question, "Will this bring us closer to a cure?"

Asking myself that question has brought me clarity and focus in times of uncertainty, and believe me there have been many.

I think as parents, we're tried and tested on a daily basis on how to best care and look after our families. In our situation, the kids' medical care has always had to take a front seat. My children are seen regularly at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. They are a cutting edge research hospital, and being a patient there means that you agree to take part in studies that the hospital is conducting.

When asked if we will take part in a particular study, my "clarity" question comes in handy. It helps me to focus on what's most important for my children. If I feel that the study is too invasive or just not right for my children, naturally, I decline. If we all decide that a certain study they ask the children to participate in could benefit, or even possibly bring us closer to a cure, then we jump on board.

My children have beaten some incredible odds and I thank God every single day. Do I believe that one day my children will be cured of HIV? I do.

During our last visit to St. Jude, we were talking with one of the workers. The kids were enrolled in a "survey" study in which they had to answer questions about their general knowledge of HIV. One of the questions they were asked was, "Do we have a cure?"

I smiled when my son answered, "Yes, of course. We just need to find it."

His words just may have been prophetic. Read this amazing story and you'll understand what I mean.
Once thought to be an impossible feat, doctors at the University of Minnesota are attempting to cure a six-year-old little boy of both his HIV and cancer. He underwent a very difficult transplant (the first of its kind) just yesterday, and now will be in isolation for the next 100 days while he recovers.

I don't usually ask my blog followers for favors, but because I believe so strongly in the power of prayer, I'll ask that you pray for this child, his family, and the doctors who are attempting to cure him of both his HIV and cancer. This "first of its kind" transplant could lead us toward what my family already believes possible...a cure for HIV.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blue Skies Ahead


Stepping out on the Big Four Bridge yesterday afternoon. 

As my daughter and I strolled across the walking bridge I had a moment to reflect on our remarkable journey.  I say remarkable not because of our circumstance.There's nothing noteworthy or remotely remarkable about being HIV positive; what would be remarkable, though, is to live to see the end of HIV. I dream of a world cured of AIDS and there are doctors and researchers believing for the same, but there is work to do. 

As the media buzz over the Mississippi baby functionally cured of HIV settles, we are left with more questions than perhaps answers. One of the biggest, "Can we replicate these same results in others?" 

The short answer is, yes, of course we can. We now know that HIV can be stopped (in some individuals) when caught early enough. This holds true for early HIV exposures treated prophylactically, as well as babies born to mother's infected with the disease. So, what does all this mean? It's a giant step toward one day ending AIDS. 

Already, with just the medicines we now have available, we could end mother to infant transmission for good.  Anti-virals are an amazing class of drugs that drive the virus to levels that are so low that passing the virus, even in vitro becomes highly unlikely. Unfortunately, the majority of women who pass the virus onto their babies are unaware that they are carriers until it's too late. Testing and treating are key. As a mother, and a proud Ambassador for The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Foundation  I encourage you to get involved. AIDS isn't over yet. We still have a long road ahead, but we will get there. 







Wednesday, August 29, 2012

HOPE for an HIV CURE

For me, these two remarkable men signify HOPE. Pictured in the photo above are Dr. Gero Hutter, a hematologist who will go down in history as the first to "cure" or eradicate the HIV virus from someone infected with the disease, and Timothy Brown (aka The Berlin Patient) the first man to be cured. 

I remember a few years back reading an article where a leading AIDS researcher was quoted as saying,  "HIV will never be cured." I was devastated. To think, that someone at the helm of research had no belief in a cure for a disease that, if not cured, would destroy millions of lives, worldwide.  

There will always be nay-sayers, and there will always be those special few who set out to accomplish the "impossible," and succeed. Think about it. Once upon a time, someone said the world was flat, we'll never walk on the moon, and a cure for HIV would never happen...

Never say Never, friends. Hats off to these two for attempting the "impossible," and would you just look what happened. Now that we know that HIV eradication is possible, this will surely lead to newer and more innovative cure research. We have much to look forward to!

Read more about Dr. Gero Hutter here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gero_Hütter

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Getting To Zero



30 years and 30 million lives lost. I have a hard time even wrapping my head around those numbers. If you ask anyone, chances are they've lost someone to AIDS. I remember the first person I lost to AIDS like it were yesterday. For you it may be a sister, a lover, a parent, a friend--no one's immune.

We can't change the past, all we can do is move forward...We can, and ultimately will cure HIV/AIDS and prevent future generations from suffering what will one day be looked back on as the worst epidemic of all time. I refuse to give up. The world deserves a cure.

I came across this powerful video. Just a small reminder of how far we've come in the last 30 years.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Silence of Mercy Bleu BOOK GROUP DISCUSSION
 The Silence of Mercy Bleu's First book group discussion was held at the Oldham County Public Library. The event was a great success, not to mention a lot of fun!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Little Things...





I'll never forget the phone call that saved my children's lives. It was a new doctor. She was quick to the point. She said, "Something in your son's blood work warrants an AIDS test. I suggest your whole family be tested."

A few years ago, I couldn't have shared this story, but the love and support I've received from my readers, friends and family has changed that. Still, it's never easy, but as a mom who wants to see this disease eradicated, I think it's important to do so. Below, I've pasted a link to a blog post I recently wrote for THE HUFFINGTON POST.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzan-stirling/pediatric-aids-_b_1375936.html

Want to know two simple things you can do to help end pediatric AIDS?

1. Share THE HUFFINGTON POST link with everyone you know!
2. Visit www.Pedaids.org to learn more.

Thanks for sharing The Huffington Post link with your friends! It sounds like a such simple thing, but sometimes it's the little things that can make all the difference in the world.

Have a blessed day!

Suzan

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicken & Dumplins for the SOUL

The boys have been down with a yucky bug all week. First Dad, and now the boys. Knock on wood, it seems to have passed me by which I'm ever so thankful for because we all know that when the men don't feel well, they require a lot of "mama" love...which I don't mind giving. I think it goes back to my mom, her mom and their grandmother before that...we're all caregivers.

I remember when I was a kid, how I'd suffered with a terrible earache and what a comfort my mother was. She'd put fresh sheets on the couch, fluff my pillow, put on cartoons and make me hot chicken soup, with little slices of toasted bread. These little comforts made me feel so much better. So that's what we're doing today...I'm pulling out the big guns. This is gonna be a pillow- fluffing Chicken & Dumplin' kind of day!

: ) Mama's HoME-made Chicken & DUMPLin' RECIPE:

Chicken Broth
Roasted Chicken
Celery
Carrot
Fresh Parsley
Fresh-Cloves Garlic
Flour
Pepper/Salt/Onion Powder
Chrystel Hot sauce

Dumplin's-Adds Salt pepper/onion powder to flour then mix in broth to right texture (flakey). Roll out dough (on wax paper) and cut into large squares.

In large pot add de-boned roasted chicken chunks and broth.
Add sliced carrots/celery/Garlic/hot sauce and simmer for one hour
Add hot sauce (just a dash) and dumplin's to boiling broth.
Cook another half-hour add fresh chopped parsley. Voila!





Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Women and HIV

My recent interview with BettyConfidential was probably one of the most candid (and enjoyable) interviews I've done to date. If you've ever wondered what it's really like to be a woman living with HIV today, well, read on! You may be pleasantly surprised. Times, they are changing!

Three women. Three very unique and inspiring stories of living with HIV. I'm so humbled (and proud) to be sandwhiched between these two remarkable ladies. I think you'll enjoy reading these stories about everything from motherhood to dating, and yes, I even answer the big question about S-E-X!

I've pasted my interview below, and you can read all of our stories in the online magazine Betty Confidential

“I want to see my children cured of HIV.”

Suzan Stirling is a 45-year-old mother, AIDS activist, and writer. Diagnosed with HIV at the age of 29, she lives in Kentucky with her husband, two biological children, and an adopted son from Ethiopia whose birth parents died from AIDS.

How did you find out that you were HIV-positive?

I’ll never forget that phone call. It came shortly after we brought our son home from the hospital. He’d been very sick and in and out of intensive care for months with a respiratory virus that his body wasn’t fending off. I was at my mother’s house when I got the call that literally saved his life. It was a new doctor. She was quick to the point. She said, ‘Something in your son’s blood work warrants an AIDS test. I suggest your whole family be tested.’ I just remember thinking, ‘I’m going to have to watch my children die.’ I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle that. That was sixteen years ago. I’d unknowingly contracted the virus in 1985 (before I’d met my husband) from a young man I’d been engaged to who I was told, years later, had died of cancer. Back then we didn’t even think that women or heterosexual men were at risk, but we know better now. At the time I was diagnosed, I’d carried the virus for nearly ten years without ever knowing it. I’ve lived with HIV for a total of twenty-six years now, more than half of my life.

How often do you visit a doctor?

I have a wonderful ID doctor who I see once every few months. Our visits run like clockwork. He accesses my health, orders the appropriate tests, and always asks me point blank, ‘How are you doing?’ My answer, I’m thankful to say is always, ‘I’m doing great.’ And I am. Amazingly, my viral load–– which is the amount of virus that can be detected in the blood––remains undetectable, and my CD-4 count (immune system count) is better than the average “healthy” person. I’m happy to say that all of my children are doing equally well. We’re very fortunate to have access to life saving treatment. I think it’s hard for people to even fathom that in other parts of the world, like Africa, where my adopted son is from, people are still dying every day from AIDS, a disease that’s now completely treatable.

What side effects do you experience from your medication?

In the early years, after my diagnosis, the medicines I took were very difficult and the side effects almost intolerable --s o much so that at one point I stopped taking them. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I thought, if this is how my life is going to be, I’d rather take my chances. They were making me that sick. Today, it’s a whole different story: due to some wonderful advances in medicine and an experienced clinician, my medicines are easy to take and I have no side effects from them. I take three pills in the evening and two in the AM. That’s it. Simple. I feel like I’m living the best years of my life, right now.

How has your diagnosis changed you?

I almost want to say, ‘How has it not changed me?’ because to be completely honest, you can’t go through what I’ve been through -- any life-threatening illness really -- be it cancer or what have you, and not come out a completely changed person. HIV is even more difficult because unlike cancer, it’s a disease that so many people suffer with in silence, myself included, for many years. I was so fearful of what people would think of me, or worse, that they’d be afraid of me. There were so many things that I had to work through to get to where I am today. HIV forced me to be a much braver, more open person, and I’m thankful for that.

How did your family and friends react to your diagnosis?

So much love. So much support … there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for the family, friends and even total strangers who have built this palatial wall of support around my children and our family. They are the reason we’re healthy and whole today. They’re the reason we’re able to openly share our status and story with others.

How do those outside of your inner circle react when you disclose your diagnosis?

I remember my son needing a surgery years back, and my telling the doctor, ‘My son is HIV positive…’ thinking this would be a problem. She just looked at me and said, ‘Okay, that doesn’t change anything. I can help your son. I’m not worried about the HIV.’ This woman was a complete stranger. Moments like that you don’t forget.

I understand people’s fear of HIV (I used to be one of those people) and I also know that a little education goes a long way. I encourage people to ask me questions. We just need to open the lines of communication.

How has HIV affected your romantic relationships?

I’m glad that someone finally had the guts to ask this question because it’s a really important one that deserves an honest answer. We need to feel free to talk openly about (and this will make my teens cringe) sex and intimate relationships. Plus, I like talking about sex. I also enjoy the act of lovemaking very much and have been doing it on a regular basis for the last twenty-four years of my marriage … before and yes, after finding out that I had HIV. I can’t speak for everyone in a romantic relationship where one or both are positive, but for my husband and I, although we’ve had bumps and dips in our marriage like any couple, sex has never been one of them. Maybe that’s because we’d already been together for almost ten years before I was diagnosed, I don’t know, but what I do know is that people meet and fall in love every day. HIV isn’t going to stop that.

In fact, in my novel I’ve addressed the “sex” issue with what’s probably the first sex scene EVER written to involve a condom! Plus, with today's treatment the virus is suppressed to such low levels that it makes transmission highly unlikely. What I’m trying to say is we're not so different from everyone else. What I’m trying to say is that HIV doesn’t change that we’re still human. We still have desires, and a need to love and be loved. I used to tell my daughter when she first started dating that HIV would weed out the Mr. Wrongs, but wouldn’t matter to that special Mr. Right. It’s true. With the right person and knowledge as your ally, HIV won’t stop you from finding that special someone to share your life with.

Do people treat you differently because you have HIV? How does that feel?

No, I really don’t think so, only because I don’t act differently. I’ve got a pretty healthy attitude and after having lived with HIV for so many years, it’s like anything else¬–you grow with it, you become more comfortable, and I think that people pick up on that. I’m not worse for having HIV; if anything, I’m better for having survived it.

What is the hardest part of living with HIV?

A few years ago, I would have said not being able to talk about my disease openly. Today, the hardest part for me is feeling that I have a responsibility to talk about it openly. It’s not easy for me to share my story, there are some really painful moments I don’t like to re-live, but I’ll keep doing it because if it helps one person, then it’s worth it to me.

In which ways do you take a stand for those who have HIV or AIDS?

Over the years my family and I have had the opportunity to work with a number of amazing organizations including The National AIDS Memorial Grove, amfAR, and The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation –– an organization dedicated to ending mother to infant transmission around the world. My goal is to facilitate HIV awareness and help end mother to infant transmission of HIV, a goal that’s been achieved here in the United States, and with support and necessary funding there’s no doubt in my mind, we’ll one day achieve those goals around the world. You can learn more about what I’m doing to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS by visiting my blog (http://www.redribbondiaries.blogspot.com/)

Your biggest fear:

My biggest fear used to be losing my children. I don’t fear that anymore. I know that they’ll live long, productive lives and that makes me happier than I can even express. My biggest worry today is health coverage. If I didn’t have health insurance, my medicine alone would cost over two thousand dollars a month. So, yes, my biggest fear is that something could happen, I could lose my health insurance, and then not be able to afford the medicine that keeps me healthy.

You’ve written a novel, The Silence of Mercy Bleu, which will be coming out in March 2012. The main character in the book has HIV -- can you tell us how closely your fictional story relates to your own personal story?

The Silence of Mercy Bleu was a story that had been stirring inside of me for years. I always knew that my first novel would be a story about a young woman with AIDS because it's a topic so close to my heart, but to answer your question: Is Mercy's story similar to my own? I'd like to say that my life and my experiences have been exciting enough to conjure up a "best-seller" but truth be told, probably not! What I am, though, is an avid observer; I love to watch and wonder. In actuality, the character of Mercy and her life experiences are vastly different from my own. I did that intentionally. But the feelings of isolation and shame -- the stigma that my character faces, those are very real things that many people living with the secret of HIV, myself included, have experienced first-hand.

What do you want most out of life?

What a great question. I want to make a difference. I want my life and my journey to have meant something. I want a lifetime of happiness. I want to love and be loved. I want to learn something new each day. I want to live. I want to see my children cured of HIV. I want… I guess I want a lot of things. But, if I had to boil it down to the one thing I want most, the thing I can’t live without, it would be a life filled with hope because with hope, I truly believe that all things become possible.

What's something you wish everyone knew about people who are living with AIDS?

I want them to know that HIV is just an illness. It doesn’t define who a person is, any more than a person who is diagnosed with cancer, or hepatitis, or diabetes. Get to know the person and then you’ll see beyond the stigma, beyond the disease. More than anything, people living with HIV need your compassion. Give us a hug. I can’t tell you how much that simple gesture means to a person living with HIV.

What would you tell women and girls who have just been diagnosed with HIV?

This is important. I would tell them that your life is not over. Don’t let HIV stop you from realizing your full potential. Be brave, be hopeful, be kind…and all good things will find you.

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

I just want to thank BettyConfidential and its editors for giving me this opportunity to share my story with readers on such an important day, World AIDS Day. And to all who read this: Be brave. Get tested. Knowing your status is your best defense against HIV/AIDS.

To learn about Suzan’s upcoming novel visit SuzanStirling.com.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hallelujah

It (really) was the night before Christmas...I'd just finished wrapping the last of the gifts and my office was a total wreck. I was taking a break when I heard my fifteen-year-old son playing the guitar and singing. I thought he sounded pretty good, then his big sister joined in and I couldn't believe it.

I pulled them back into my study, sat them down in front of my computer's webcam, and said sing it again. This is what transpired...a funny, touching video of my kids singing the song Hallelujah.

"Hallelujah" is a word that means rejoice, or God be praised, and that's what I feel like doing every time I look at my children and think about how far we've come since those early days before our diagnosis.

My daughter wants to be a teacher and I'm not sure if my son will grow-up to be a comedian, a singer, or a scientist, but I do know that this video always makes me laugh, always makes me smile and ALWAYS fills my heart with joy. I'll forever cherish the memory of this special night before Christmas when my two oldest sang Hallelujah, and meant it. Here's to healthy, happy kids. Here's to one day finding a cure. For this day and for tomorrow, I am so grateful... Hallelujah!





Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Season of HOPE!

This truly is a season of HOPE for my family. We are blessed with good health and there is no greater gift than that. Perhaps one day, no child, brother, or family will have to succumb to AIDS. That is my wish...

My family and I are so proud to be part of amfAR and their "Making AIDS History" campaign. Please take a moment to click on the link and learn more about how you can help us win the fight against AIDS. There's ground breaking research happening right now, and amfAR is leading the way!

Have a beautiful, healthy holidays, friends!

Be Blessed,

Suzan

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Child Banned from Attending School...in 2011??

I don't like to admit it, but I used to be one of those people who had irrational fears about HIV and how it was transmitted. It wasn't that I was a bad person, I just didn't have accurate information.

When I watched this story about the 13-year-old boy being banned from school, my heart sank. My thoughts and prayers really go out to this family and this child. Years ago, one of my biggest fears about "coming out" about our status was that this could happen to us. My children being ostracized at school was my biggest fear. A fear that proved to be completely unwarranted. When we disclosed to our schools, people came out in groves to support us. The schools, faculty, students, parents, even complete strangers rallied around our children in a show support. I'll never forget it. I wish it were the same for this family.

The good news is that there's a lot of good information out there now about HIV. Did you know that today's medicines supress the virus to such low levels that trasmission (even from blood, fluids, etc.) is unlikely? I just find it sad that in this day and age a child is being banned from school for being honest about his status. What are your thoughts? Why are we still having this problem?
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Doin' the "Hivvy" dance ; )

If you've ever watched Scrubs, you'll remember the infamous episode where Dr. Turk has to tell one of his patients that he has HIV. Sure, the news was going to be crushing, but it wasn't a death sentence anymore, either ... hence the infamous "Hivvy" dance was born. Well, Alee and I loved that episode so much, that when Alee found out that "Scrubs" actor Donald Faison, aka Dr. Turk, was going to be at the EGPAF's "A Time For Heroes," she decided to track him down for an autograph, and you won't believe what happened next...: )

Friday, September 9, 2011

HOP ABOARD! IT'S MAMA-TAXI : )


When we moved, Alee and Mitch (who'd gone to the same schools since they were little) didn't want to change (something I could totally relate to, having come from a childhood where I'd moved a lot). So, we opted for an in district transfer where they didn't have to change schools. Every day (morning and afternoon) I'd drive back and forth, about thirty miles total. Three kids, three different schools! It was a handful, but we managed.

Now, with Alee off in college, and it being just me and the (growing taller by the milli-second) boys, the pace has slowed some. A good day goes off without a hitch. I get Yonas off the bus and we ride together to pick up his older brother. It takes about an hour both ways, including wait time, give or take a pit stop at one of three fast food chains we pass along the way. Yonas and I catch-up–talk about his day–what he did in school, but mostly we talk about what he ate for lunch, while he finishes his snack. Seems this "growing" boy is always hungry : ) Once we're parked at the high school, Yonas turns his attention to homework, and I like to use those quiet twenty minutes to read or edit a few pages of whatever I'm working on. It's funny, but I get some of my best ideas while sitting in my car...just waiting. I've come up with things that have so inspired me that I've written them down on the back of crumpled receipts, old McDonald bags, and would you believe that the blurb for The Silence of Mercy Bleu (HERE) was jotted down with a red crayon! Hey, whatever works, right?

A lot of thought and a tremendous amount of work goes into the making of a novel, and it's a known fact that very few first novels go on to be published. I'll just say that I feel very privileged for this opportunity. To my family, my agent and publisher, and all of you who believed this was an important story–one that needed to be told, a big "Thank you!" I appreciate you all so much.

Coming in September, I'll have more good news and fun tid-bits, along with some pics of this months big AIDS WALK event in Louisville! Oh, and I almost forgot ... The Silence of Mercy Bleu now has an official Fan Page! Thanks to all of you who have helped it grow in numbers!
Like it HERE or THERE in the sidebar >>
and you could be the lucky winner of a signed copy of The Silence of Mercy Bleu.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eliminating Pediatric AIDS–Yes, We Can!


The task of eliminating or curing HIV/AIDS may look like a daunting task, but today more than ever it's an achievable goal. We already have the tools to keep people with HIV living healthy, productive lives, but we also have the capability to prevent mother-to-infant transmission––not only here in the United States, but everywhere around the world. All it takes is access to medicines; a couple of pills a day! As a mother with three children, two biological and one adopted from Ethiopia (all of whom were born with HIV) that means so much to me. Most of us can't imagine being a mother whose only hope is to have a child born free of HIV. Back in 1990, when I was pregnant with my first child, even if I'd known that I carried the virus, we didn't know how to prevent transmission. Not so for women today. With the technology now available, no child should be born with with this totally preventable disease. I'm here to say that we can help make that a reality.

Elizabeth Glaser once said, "Sometimes in life there is that moment when it's possible to make a change for the better. This is one of those moments." That was such a profound statement and one that still holds true. Elizabeth was a wife and mother who made it her mission to fund the very research that's made it possible for children to be born HIV-free. There's no one that worked harder, and what she started so many years ago is still going strong today. If you want to make a difference in the lives of children and families who desperately need our help visit The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation www.pedaids.org to learn more.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Making AIDS History"

What an unforgettable experience... to be a part of amfAR's "Making AIDS History" Campaign. I'll never forget the people I met and the bonds that were forged in the two days it took to shoot this video. Their stories, as you'll see, are truly amazing and full of heart...as are they. To view my family's story, along with six other stories that are sure to fill you with hope and inspiration please visit: http://www.makingaidshistory.org/

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pencils...Crayons, and Glue-Sticks, OH MY!!

Seeing these two boys go from being complete strangers, just five years ago, to being true "brothers" has been one of the most profound experiences of my life, but I'll get mushy about that later. Right now, I'm too busy! With school just around the corner I've been doing the mad dash to get everything done. Yonas, my little guy, will be a big 4th grader this year! He is the best kid ever, and as you can see by the fuzzy cell-phone pic (sorry, can't find the camera) he's growing very tall, very fast. He also loves football : )

It's been a really great summer, but still I think we're all ready and excited for the year ahead.

Yesterday was Mitch's registration at his high school. While there, we got a moment to talk to one of his school guidance counselors who was extremely helpful in mapping out his course of study. Mitch, at only fifteen, has big dreams. He's very mature and thoughtful for his age; a whiz in Math, Science––part writer, part artist, like me. At only age fourteen, he had his first story published in a literary magazine that his school puts out once a year. Talk about a proud mom moment. He's also musical...likes to listen to Mozart...symphonies even, and is a self-taught pianist. We'll be in the car and I'll say, "Mitch, can we please turn off the Beethoven and put on some Michael Buble or something?"

"But mom, listen...this is so amazing!"

I think he is amazing. Anyhow, Mitch's dream is to be a pharmacist after he graduates and we found out through his counselor yesterday that his school offers a pharmacy tech program that he'll be able to enroll in his senior year. He'll have to double up on math next year as his goal is to take a calculus class before graduation. I tried to talk him out of the heavy course load. "Don't you just want to have fun your senior year?"

He just smiled, "Mom, math is fun...trust me."

Yeah, I'm still shaking my head over that one!

Three years and I've got another one college bound. Wow, this beautiful life really is flying...


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Guardian Angel Story


Woman's World Magazine-August 2011 issue #32
My Guardian Angel by Suzan Stirling-Meredith

When we pray for help, help always arrives--often in the most remarkable way.

As I sat beside my baby boy In the hospital, I suddenly knew what it meant for a heart to break.

There he lay in the NICU, a thick tube jutting from his mouth, his tiny chest rising and falling to the rhythm of a machine. Diagnosed with asthma and RSV, a respiratory virus that his newborn immune system couldn't fend off, he'd been fighting for weeks. Now, doctors were candid: Things weren't looking good.

Though I'd prayed constantly since the day Mitchell had been born, my hope was running on empty as I left the hospital that evening, planning to make a quick dash to tuck my daughter in for the night at my mom's before I returned.

But the roads were still covered in ice, and it was going to take forever. Tears welling in my eyes, desperate to see my little girl and equally desperate to return to my baby, I began to pray: "God, We've done all that we know how to do. I'm giving this to you now. Please make him well, or take him. Just don't let him suffer anymore."

Now, my tears streaming so hard I could barely see, I pulled to the shoulder, where I lay my head on the steering wheel. "And please," I whispered, "help me..."

Just then, the car filled with the glorious scent of freshly cut summer lilies.

The fragrance was so clear, so strong, that I stopped crying. I scanned the car, even rolling down the window to find the source of the scent. But there was nothing around to explain it, nothing but snow. And suddenly, a deep wave of peace poured through me.

He's going to make it, I knew.

Later that night, I told my husband, "It was Mitchell's angel. I know it was." And it must have been, because from that day forward our son began to improve.

Though the long battle he'd fought had left him with cerebral palsy, Mitchell was alive––a blessing of love, and a warrior who has bravely overcome every obstacle he's faced since. And I never forgot the beautiful message the angels sent to me.

Still, I'd never shared the story with my children. Not until last summer...

"I'm thinking of getting a tattoo." my daughter said. "A yellow lily."

Just then Mitch, now a strapping tall teenager, walked into the room. "Like these?" he asked, placing a vase of the blooms, cut from our backyard, on the table. And as the flowers' perfume wafted through the air ... I remembered.

"Why are you crying, Mom?" Mitch asked, slinging a protective arm around my shoulders.

Overcome, I said, "I have something to tell you ..." And as I shared the memory of that night, and how the scent of freshly cut lilies––the very scent that filled the room now––had carried me through one of the most difficult times of my life, I thanked the angels once again for that long-ago beautiful message, letting me know my boy would be just fine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Plan B

It's that time again. Every three months we load the kiddos up and off we go to St. Jude's. Because we travel for their appointments, the day typically starts at about 5 am. When we land in Memphis we're met by a driver who takes us from the airport to the hospital.

Once at St. Jude's, there are blood drawings, well check-ups, and a multitude of other things all sandwiched into the space of a few hours. Everything generally runs like clockwork, and the kids love seeing everyone at St. Jude. It's pretty obvious that they enjoy caring for the kids too. I can't sing their praises enough. It's been awhile since I've made the trip on my own. It's no big secret that I have a fear of flying. My palms get sweaty just thinking about it.

There aren't too many things in this world that make me shake in my shoes––public speaking, flying, centipedes, freeways, flying... Did I mention flying? Because of this, my sweet husband usually does the day trip with the kids, but this time there was a ticket mix-up and I'm stuck like chuck. Flying solo. Help me@!!

Usually, when there's flying to be done, I resort to what I refer to as Plan A: This consists of two cocktails (preferably Bloody Mary's) tossed back in quick succession just before the plane starts to shimmy down the runway. Although this works wonders on vacation jaunts, I doubt this would go over too well before the kids' doctor appointment. Which means I'll have to resort to the dreaded Plan B.

Plan B, you ask? It's pretty cut and dry, and calls for courage. Which means, I'll just have to face my fear like the cool-under-pressure, gutsy woman that I know resides within me somewhere. (Deep Breath) Yes, that's what I'm gonna do...

Here's to St. Jude's and all they do for kids, our safe journey, and to being back on the ground SOON : )

Suzan





Friday, July 15, 2011

No Fear...Hope is Here

"There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow." – Orison Swett Marden

Just recently The New York Times posted this very interesting article about a study supporting the use of anti-virals to ward off HIV-infection. They proposed using it in people who are believed to be at high risk, but did you also know that antivirals can be used for "possible" HIV exposure? As a mother with three school age children who are positive, I felt confident–nothing could happen. I mean, what were the chances that my child would scrape knees at the same exact time with another child, or any of the other (never could happen) bodily contact scenerios that might go through your head?

The odds were a million to one. I would have banked my life on it. Even so, in 2008, shortly after Yonas was adopted, we made the decision as a family to let each of our children's schools, including their PE teachers, know about their HIV status. Why? There were a number of factors, but the biggest was that keeping it a secret had become a burden even larger than the illness itself. It was just "time," was how my daughter put it.

Have I ever regretted that decision? Never–not even once. I think that after hiding it for so many years, being able to have it out in the open felt like becoming a free man after a life-long confinement. I don't think I realized, while we were going through it, what a toll keeping the secret had become.

Disclosure is a very personal decision, and one that should not be taken lightly, especially where young children are concerned. In our case, it was the right decision at the right time. I know that there are other mothers and families out there struggling with these same issues and I hope that my story offers reasurance and hope.

In lieu of all the recent news about the success of anti-virals for post exposure, I think it fitting to reshare this story, "A Mother's Worst Nightmare."

Do not fear the unknown, but instead arm yourself with education––

Suzan

*Questions or comments? I love to hear from my readers! Comment below or e-mail me at Suzan1111@insightbb.com

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Time For Heroes 2011

They surfed. They danced. They ate foot-long chili dogs ... Santa Monica may never be the same ; ) Every year we look forward to the EGPAF's "A Time For Heroes" event and this year was pretty amazing. There was a new buzz in the air ... a lot of talk about ending pediatric HIV/AIDS once and for all. If you're not familiar with them, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is an incredible organization whose mission is to prevent pediatric HIV infection and to eradicate pediatric AIDS throughout the world. They plan on doing this through research, advocacy, and prevention and treatment programs.

This year's event, I'm pleased to say, raised an amazing $1.1 million! That should help a lot of mothers and babies win this fight. I know there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank God that my children and I live in a country where we have access to the medicine that saved our lives.

And would you just look at those smiles? Here's a recap of our day in pictures...Thanks for stopping by.
Mitch catches a wave. If you've never caught a plastic rip-curl, it's a must! Look at my son mastering that board ... why, he's a natural!
Yonas and "Chuck" hanging out ... and yes, they are both really this cute.
Hangin' ten! She makes it look SO easy! : )
That's the ever so talented Joey D. on the drums and his side-kick (aka, my son Yonas) showing us some NEVER before seen dance moves. He popped, he moon-walked, he rocked the dance floor : )

Ending pediatric AIDS is no longer an impossible goal. In fact, we have more hope now than ever before. If you want to learn more please visit www.pedaids.org .