He stopped taking his medicines because he could not afford them. The out-of-pocket cost was about $2,500 per month, a figure that was out of reach for a self-employed carpenter.
“I used to think I was Superman,” he said. “If I didn’t feel bad, I didn’t think about my health. And even when I got sick, I just kept pressing on.”
James continued to work, remodeling homes, while his immune system grew weaker and weaker. He developed a persistent cough and felt a deep, stabbing pain in his chest whenever he drew a deep breath. Although he didn’t know it yet, James had contracted pneumonia.
Eventually, the physical pain of HIV became unbearable. To cope, he took prescription painkillers — and soon became addicted to them. That survival strategy led him to a 30-day detox program at a Baton Rouge healthcare facility.
“I was getting clean, but that meant 30 more days without any HIV treatment. I was really sick.”
When he completed his program, the staff referred him to AcadianaCares. “They told me it was the best place I could possibly go.”
When he arrived in Lafayette, James was gravely ill.
“I could barely breathe. I could only take very shallow breaths. I coughed constantly and was in tremendous pain.”
AcadianaCares helped him get to a hospital, where he was treated for bronchial pneumonia and had surgery to remove some lung tissue. And the hospital took another critical step by getting him back on his HIV medications.
Two critical measures of health for those living with HIV are CD4 counts, which reflect the strength of the immune system, and viral load, the amount of HIV found in the blood. Ideal test results are a CD4 of about 250 and a viral load of zero, meaning that the virus is at undetectable levels.
James’s viral load was 500,000. And his CD4 count was only 4.
“Without AcadianaCares, I would not be alive today,” he said.
After leaving the hospital, he lived at AcadianaCares, where he continued his recovery. Six months later, he was ready to return to his family in North Carolina.
“I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed a place to reconnect me to a network, so I could get the medicines I need. I’m never going to be without them again.”