IF YOU GO
* What: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day observance
* When: 5:30 p.m. today
* Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.
Marvelyn Brown's friends had unprotected sex and got a sexually transmitted disease that was cured with a pill or a shot.
Brown had unprotected sex and got HIV.
"I was so angry," Brown said. "You heard about STDs. You hear about pregnancy, but you just didn't know there was stuff that you could do that you would not get a second chance for."
The 26-year-old Nashville resident, Emmy Award winner and author of "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive" will be the speaker at the Southeast Tennessee Council for HIV/AIDS care and prevention event at 5:30 p.m. today at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
The event is held in conjunction with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which is observed nationally on Monday, according to the blackaidsday.org website.
Chattanooga CARES will provide free and confidential HIV testing throughout the program.
"It's better to know than not to know," said Megan Slaton, Chattanooga Cares medical assistant. "It's better to be educated on the disease and also to know your status."
More than 1,400 people in Hamilton County have the HIV/AIDS virus, said Cynthia Wood, supervisor of AIDS Outreach with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
"HIV is everywhere. The minute we make it a disease of 'them,' we make a mistake," said Wood. "We want people to realize that HIV is a disease of 'us.'"
Three years ago, someone in the United States was diagnosed with HIV every 12 minutes, Wood said. Now that statistic is every 9.5 minutes, Wood said.
Brown said she felt so much criticism and backlash when people found out she had the disease, it seemed as if everyone else around her practiced abstinence.
Brown was a 19-year-old college student and star athlete when she contracted the disease eight years ago. She called her boyfriend her "Prince Charming." They had dated months before having sex without a condom. He told her that night that he had run out.
"What that said to me was that, 'I love you. I trust you. I can see you having my baby,'" Brown said. "It didn't seem wrong at all. This is the guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and so we did it that night without."
Two and a half weeks later she got so sick that she fainted. She was rushed to the emergency room.
"I had never been sick a day in my life," she said.
Doctors performed several tests—scans, MRI, spinal tap. They all came back negative. Doctors told her mother that Brown had 24 hours to live and, if someone wanted to say any last words, they should come now.
"The preacher was called in to pray over me, and they waited for me to die," Brown said.
Then an infectious disease specialist came in and realized that Brown had pneumonia. The doctor immediately tested Brown for HIV. She credits the doctor and getting sick with saving her life.
"The sickness is something I'm grateful for because I would have never voluntarily gone to have that test," she said. "It just wasn't going to happen to me."
She probably would have been one of the people who didn't get tested and didn't find out that they had the disease until eight or 10 years later, she said, and by that time, the virus would have all but destroyed her immune system.
Because she was tested, she was able to start taking care of the problem, she said, and she now travels the country speaking about HIV and AIDS. In 2007, her consulting organization, Marvelous Connections, won an Emmy for Outstanding National Public Service.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...