Mum, me and HIV – Andrew’s story

Andrew Gamez-Heath and mother dressed smartly

How would your mum react if you were diagnosed with HIV? Or your partner, daughter or brother? A HIV diagnosis can come as a shock, but there is life, relationships and sex after HIV.

Here’s what happened when Andrew Gamez-Heath told his mum Alison.

Andrew on Alison

“When I was diagnosed with HIV I knew one of the hardest people to tell was going to be my mum,” says Andrew, who was diagnosed during National HIV Testing Week in 2014.

“As an adult I never wanted to give my parents any unnecessary worry, yet I was faced with having to tell her I had a virus which at the time, neither of us understood. I knew she would be devastated.

“It was 18 months after receiving my diagnosis that I told her and she reacted exactly the way I expected her to. Total panic!

“Since then, she has also has become a bit of an activist, spreading the message that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass it on to anyone who will listen her. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive parent.

“My advice to anyone living with HIV who maybe hasn’t told their family is to wait until you’re ready and you have got your head round your diagnosis. You may not be as lucky as I was and you may not get the reaction you expect.

“You don’t want to be supporting the person you’re telling when you still need support yourself. Remember once you have told someone you cant ‘un-tell’ them, so make sure it’s someone you trust. Wait until you have all the facts and all the answers to the questions you will be asked.”

Andrew Gamez-Heath as a child, with mother

Alison on Andrew

“When Andrew told me of his HIV diagnosis I felt every emotion in the book; terror, shock, anger and confusion about what was going to happen next,” says Alison about her son.

“How long was he going to live? Would I be able to nurse him? Would he be in pain? These were all the things that went through my brain. Since the 1980s, when there was the public education pieces on the television, I hadn’t heard much about the virus.

“In my mind HIV and AIDS were one and the same thing, something you died from!

“Andrew was calm and had obviously chosen his words wisely and very quickly, in a few minutes, told me that this was not the case and that treatment and medication had come a long way in 30 years.

“My advice for any parent finding out that their son or daughter is HIV positive is ‘don’t panic!’ That is easy to say in hindsight. I have learned so much since Andrew’s diagnosis that I will, at any opportunity, help to educate others to understand what the fairly simple treatment can do and by taking the prescribed medication the virus becomes undetectable so that it cannot be passed on to others.

“I am incredibly proud of Andrew who works for a sexual health charity and, on a daily basis, educates children and adults alike about HIV. He has had his diagnosis and knows how terrified he was, I just wish that I had been able to be with him and tell him, like mums do, that it would be all right, and it will.”

The truth about HIV

We now have the evidence to confidently say that people living with HIV and on effective treatment – like Andrew – can’t pass the virus on to anyone else.

The PARTNER study looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) across many countries where one partner was HIV positive and on effective treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom.

Is your HIV knowledge up-to-date? Find out more about the science behind this game-changing message.

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