Georgia man finds 'good' life after HIV diagnosis
ATLANTA - When 30-year old Andrew Williams of Conyers first heard the words, "You have HIV," the self-employed janitorial business owner thought his life was over.
"I was completely in shock," Williams says. "I just didn't know what to do. I just felt like everything was over."
His mother had pushed Williams to go the doctor in November of 2016 after he complained of intense itching on his back.
Her concerns about her son's health were well-founded.
At the same time, Williams was diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and HIV, spending a month in the hospital.
"Everything happened at once, I just didn't know that I was as unhealthy as I was," he says.
Williams admits he knew nothing about HIV at the time, and feared the worst.
Dr. Jonathan Colasanti, Assistant Medical Professor at Emory and the Associate Medical Director of the Grady Infectious Disease Program, hears those same concerns all the time in his clinic.
"To this day, one of the first questions I asked patients that are newly diagnosed is, 'What was your first thought when I or somebody else told you have HIV,'" Dr. Colasanti says. "And. the majority of the time, that's what comes out of someone's mouth: 'I thought I was going to die.'"
But, Williams took the next step.
He started seeing a doctor at Grady's Ponce de Leon Avenue Infectious Disease Clinic.
That first visit, he he barely spoke.
"I was just scared to ask anything," Williams says. "I was just embarrassed."
The doctor put him on a daily medication to lower his viral load.
Dr. Colsanti says HIV medications have improved dramatically over the last 30 years.
It now takes just one or two pills a day to manage the virus.
"We have medicines that very effectively control the virus and allow that individual that is infected to live a perfectly normal and healthy life," he says.
Within 2 months of taking two antiretroviral drugs a day, Williams says tests showed the HIV virus was "undetectable" in his blood.
Dr. Colesanti says the treatment should prevent Williams from infecting anyone else with the virus.
"When a person living with HIV is on their medicines, and taking them every day, and their virus is down to what we call undetectable levels in the blood, it's actually now been scientifically-proven that those individivuals can virtually not pass that infection on to other people," Dr. Colesanti says.
A year after Andrew William's diagnosis, he's eating better, and has stopped smoking and drinking.
He sees his Grady doctor every three months and is down to taking one pill a day.
Life with HIV isn't so bad.
"I just feel blessed to be able to be healthy," he says.