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Columbia Missourian

World AIDS Day speaker educates Stephens College about HIV

By Kaysie Moore
November 30, 2011 | 10:29 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — LaTricia Miles can't remember if Magic Johnson announced he had HIV or AIDS 20 years ago. And at the time, she didn't really care. 

It wasn't until Dec. 13, 1995, when Miles was diagnosed with HIV that she realized the sympathy she lacked. 

Free HIV testing

Missouri Rain, an organization that supports those with HIV, and Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education will provide free testing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the MU Student Center.

Miles spoke Wednesday at Firestone Baars Chapel at Stephens College in honor of World AIDS Day on Thursday. She is the treatment adherence specialist at the Kansas City Free Health Clinic, and she helps clients as old as 61 and as young as 13 who are HIV positive. Her testimony, titled "Living Positive," educated the attendees, including students and health department workers, about the disease that 33.3 million people live with today. 

Miles began the program by explaining the three ways one contracts HIV: through sexual intercourse, needles and breast-feeding.

Then Miles, who was married for 15 years, told her story. 

Miles said she had been feeling sick and went to the doctor, expecting to be treated for something mild, like bronchitis. But when the doctor told her she was fine, Miles demanded an HIV test. 

"I don't know why I asked, but I refused to leave the doctor's office without one," Miles said. "When the test came back positive, I lived the next three years as a victim."

She said she planned her own funeral and felt alone and hopeless.

Miles, who said she contracted HIV from her husband, whom she had been married and faithful to for 15 years, filed for divorce. She didn't tell anyone why, including her children. 

Although she said she has given up feeling like a victim, she still has difficulty accepting that it's not her fault. She said her message — that nobody deserves this disease — is still something she has to remind herself. 

Miles also spoke about the costs of HIV medication and what it's like to begin relationships as a person who is HIV positive. She has traveled to countries such as Ghana and Caicos to counsel those who live with the disease. 

At the end of her lecture, Miles asked students in the audience what they could take from the night. Tyana Washington and Eze Ezekue, both MU students, said they felt more aware of the disease and inspired to spread information to others. 

Audience member Camille Roland said the event was eye-opening.

"She opened up about her life and showed us that HIV doesn't have a face," Roland said. "I hope people take the time to spread the word and get tested."