"To me, there are worse things than HIV," said Victoria, with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
Hope is something Victoria struggled to find before coming to CHN's Women's Supportive Services Program at the Queens Health Center, a program that helps women diagnosed with HIV or AIDS navigate the healthcare system and receive emotional support.
"I remember the doctor wouldn't step into my room. He just stood by the doorway, threw my chart at me, and yelled 'You have AIDS! I won't treat you! We don't want you here!," Victoria said, remembering how her family learned that she had AIDS at a local hospital. "It was so loud that everyone nearby could hear him, including my son."
Diagnosed with HIV in 1981 after contracting the virus from a blood transfusion, Victoria spent years hiding her status from her family and contemplated suicide several times as a way out. The day the doctor told her that her HIV had progressed to AIDS was the beginning of four years of time spent in and out of hospitals struggling to receive compassionate care in a time when little was known about HIV.
In 1998,everything dramatically changed, Victoria said when she joined WSS, becoming the first client in the program.
Victoria began receiving most of her medical care at CHN and 10 years later still comes to WSS meetings to help other women.
"I got my strength from CHN," she said. "My self esteem has been lifted up, and now I can go out and tell people to come out and get help."
Today Victoria spends time educating people on sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS and regularly makes trips to her home country of Trinidad to visit relatives.
Considering her condition over a decade ago, Victoria's energy and love of life has dramatically transformed.
"Today I'm blessed," Victoria said.