Can you imagine newly arriving to the United States from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a happy, expecting 22-year-old newlywed to attend college and then finding out through a routine prenatal visit that you are HIV positive? This is precisely what happened to Fortunata Kasege in 1997. What turned out to be a dream of coming to America to study journalism quickly turned into a nightmare when she discovered her HIV status.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Kasege. “I was shaking. I was screaming. They were basically telling me that I was going to die. Everything was really, really spinning around my head at that time. I had a high level of anxiety. I had deep depression.”
That was then. Today, life is measurably better for Fortunata Kasege.
Today I hung out on Google+ with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and had the opportunity to speak with and hear Kasege’s uplifting story of hope and survival. It’s moments when I hear true stories of those who have triumphed in the face of despair that I am humbled beyond words by their courage and drive to help others. Today Kasege is a HIV/AIDS advocate and ambassador who spreads the word of hope to other mothers who are also HIV positive. “I feel so lucky,” said Kasege. “I feel like I am the one who got the gift. I am the one who got this incredible gift to be a mom.”
Fifteen years ago all Kasege knew about HIV/AIDS is what she saw in her native Tanzania. When people contracted HIV/AIDS they rapidly died from the disease. “I come from a completely different world where people die from HIV,” Kasege remembered. “You just prepare yourself for the worst. I didn’t want to die at 22.”
In those days HIV/AIDS ravished the African continent. Little did Kasege know after her diagnosis that there was medication to treat her and prevent HIV transmission between she and her unborn daughter. Today Fortunata Kasege is doing well and is healthy. Her daughter, Florida, who is now a teenager, is HIV-free thanks to the medications Kasege received when she initially learned of her HIV status fifteen years ago.
Like Kasege, this Mother’s Day you can celebrate your mom and mothers around the world. Visit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation site, A Mother’s Fight, and leave a comment and tell them how your mom inspired you.