AIDS awareness at City — A City College student shares her personal story about being born and living with the illness.

When Kalee Garland heard her teacher explain to students that they would never meet anyone with AIDS, she knew it was time to speak out.

National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day brought Garland, a City College student to speak, inform and break stigmas about the illness on April 10.

Garland made it a personal goal to share her story. She learned she was born with AIDS at age seven.

“I didn’t know AIDS was scary, I just knew I had it. I also knew I had a toe.” Garland told the crowd while pointing to her foot.

The average person carries 500 to 1200 T-cells – the cells that multiply into a cell army and defend your body from specific germs. In 1993 when HIV was found in Garland’s system, she had only seven T-cells.

The virus was passed from Garland’s mother, who was unaware she was an AIDS carrier until Garland was discovered to have HIV in 1993.

“I cannot stress the importance of using a condom,” Garland explained. “It is your insurance.”

Garland’s mother became infected before ever meeting her husband and having three children. With a 25 percent chance of passing the HIV virus through offspring, she was the only one to test positive out of her and her brothers.

For anyone who is positive, it is national guidelines to be on HIV drugs, but after years of taking the medicine, which was suppose to make her feel better, it only made her feel horrible. At age 13, she chose to stop.

“I do not take them. I do not feel like it is conducive with my lifestyle,” Garland explained. “I believe in a holistic way; eating right, sleeping, not drinking, washing hands and not smoking.”

During the event Garland talked about stereotypes that people might associate with AIDS patients, such as not having a life outside of the disease.

“I’m not immune to life,” Garland said when talking about her personal life and relationships. “I’ve fallen in love and had my heartbroken, and I still have sex.”

Garland heard the most discouraging comment from her English teacher during her junior year of high school. “You’ll probably never meet anyone with AIDS.” This was the defining moment when she knew she had to share her story with her community.

Since then she has spoken to crowds at colleges and universities, students entering high school, and was even featured on MTV.

“People think you can only get it if your dirty, or in another country, or if you’re gay. That’s not at all true, getting tested is the best way to reduce the stigma,” stated Garland.

City College will offer free HIV cotton swab testing on campus April 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Gorton Quad.