When Cressie Stokes first sought treatment for HIV in the 1990s, she needed to take 22 pills a day to regain her health. Today, she needs just one pill a day to maintain her vigor. Her simplified regimen is a testament both to her improved health and the advances in HIV treatment over the past two and a half decades.
When Cressie first tested positive for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), she didn’t seek treatment.
“I was in denial,” she said. “I wasn’t taking any meds, so I had nothing to fight with.”
The stigma behind HIV, which can lead to AIDS if untreated, deterred Cressie (pictured, left) from seeking treatment. Those most at risk for contracting HIV (key affected populations) face stigma and discrimination based on factors such as their real or perceived health status, race, socioeconomic status, age, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
HIV was weakening her immune system, and two years later, Cressie was hospitalized with pneumonia and collapsed lungs.
If she continued to let her HIV go untreated, her doctor said, her life expectancy was about 18 months. That, Cressie said, was her “lightbulb moment.”
“I had to learn about HIV, so my sister sent me a book about it,” Cressie said. “I read that book about 10 times. I had to learn about how it was affecting me and how to get treatment.”
Since then, Cressie has followed her treatment program precisely, and the results are evident in the vitality she displays every day.
“You have to give her credit for what she does,” said LeShonda Wallace (pictured, right), PhD, FNP, with the HIV Care Team at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. “She practices self-care by taking her medication every day, and that prevents resistance to the medicine.”
Cressie, a community health worker, has also taken ownership of her HIV diagnosis in another way. She speaks publicly about her situation and encourages others to get tested.
Some are surprised to learn that Cressie – a heterosexual black female – has contracted HIV. Because that stigma that caused Cressie to delay treatment, she wants to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.
“I thought it was death sentence,” she said. “But it’s not. As long as you do what doctors say, you can live a long, prosperous life.”
Novant Health supports diversity, health equity and inclusion through many initiatives, including our Pride business resource group. The group was instrumental in bringing sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to NHRMC for the second time in 2021. Sections of the quilt will remain on display in the Women’s & Children’s lobby and the main lobby throughout January.
The NHRMC HIV Care Team
The NHRMC HIV Care Team offers comprehensive care for HIV and AIDS patients. As an HIV Primary Care and a Level III Patient Centered Medical Home, we coordinate all medical care for individuals with HIV and AIDS through our medical home model.
NHRMC partners with several groups in the region who offer HIV counseling, testing and other assistance: