‘I thought I was going to die’: HIV positive man opens up about diagnoses to combat stigma

Andrew Heath

PinkNews exclusive
A gay HIV positive man has opened up about his diagnoses to help tackle the stigma around HIV.

Andrew Gamez-Heath decided to reveal his status to all of his friends and family on Facebook on his third year anniversary of finding out he had HIV.

Andrew Heath

(Photo by Andrew Heath)

The 34-year-old was inspired to tell his story partially because of his job as an HIV educator with the charity Positive Health.

“It’s a double edge sword,” he told PinkNews. “You are told by your consultants to be very careful about who you tell but then you end up living with his secret.”

For Gamez-Heath, he felt bad that he was hiding his status even though at work he was surrounded by people fighting for HIV awareness.

“I thought if I put it out there on Facebook I would be able to help people who wanted to ask questions. I thought, why can I not be the person to go ‘look, I’ve got it and I’m ok’,” he added.

Gamez-Heath wrote a lengthy and candid Facebook post about finding out he was HIV, and the aftermath of how he dealt with it.

Andrew Heath

(Photo by Andrew Heath)

In the powerful message, he explained that he was now “happier and healthier than ever” and that his status had actually helped him to grow as a person.

“I’m happy, healthy, my virus is undetectable and I can’t pass it on,” he added. “My life is no different from yours.”

Related: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan vows to eradicate HIV infections in the capital by 2030

Talking to PinkNews, Gamez-Heath explained that he first came to know of his status after he took a routine test as he entered a new relationship with his now-husband, Ricardo.

“I thought I best check to be on the safe side,” he said.

After being told that he was positive, panic set in.

Andrew Heath

(Photo by Andrew Heath)

“I didn’t know anything about HIV. The first thing that crosses your mind is ‘oh my god, I’m going to die’,” he said.

Over time, he worked on education himself and with the help of his partner and consultants he became less scared.

He explained: “I had massive misconceptions. I thought it was going to kill me. I thought it was going to ruin my life.

“I never realised that you could get to the point where you are undetectable and you can’t pass it on.”

Related: White House evades questions after Trump fires entire HIV advisory council

Gamez-Heath added that after coming to terms with having HIV, his attention turned to how he would tell people.

Andrew Heath

(Photo by Andrew Heath)

“You’re in a position where you think you have to tell people, but you don’t. It doesn’t change their life,” he added.

The charity worker took the decision to only tell his partner and older sister, waiting over a year and a half before he told other close family and friends.

Related: Gay HIV-positive Democrat elected as leader of New York City council

Gamez-Heath says that he is thankful as he hasn’t had one negative reaction, and the diagnoses actually made his relationship with his partner stronger.

“My first reaction was thinking that he was going to run a mile. He’s going to freak out, but he didn’t.

“He’s a nurse, he’s knowledgeable, he’s got his head screwed on and he was amazing. And actually, everything that we went through together has made us stronger,” he explained.

Andrew Heath

(Photo by Andrew Heath)

The pair met in London when they both lived there, and Ricardo was one of Andrew’s first official male partners.

He said of how they met: “I wasn’t actually out about my sexuality. No-one knew anything really, I’d had relationships with women and then I remember thinking ‘oh my god, I never thought I’d have feelings for a guy but now I do and I don’t know what to do’.”

“Literally a few days after we met I was around his for dinner and we went from there.”

For Gamez-Heath, he hopes that other people can take inspiration from his story especially those who may have just found out that they are HIV positive.

“Don’t panic. Don’t Google it. Just take one day at a time.

“I wished I could take all the information from my head and put it in others, but it just takes time. You’ll be absolutely fine.”

Games-Heath added that if anything, 2018 was the best time to be HIV positive because of the “toolbox” of protection that is available.

“It’s safer now to have sex with someone who is undetectable than with someone who doesn’t know their status because you can’t pass it on.

“We’re in 2018 and we have great protection. The more we test the more people we can get on medication. The more we use PrEP, the less people who are passing it on. Just do your research. Why wouldn’t you use it when you have it on offer,” he added.