Release date
May 18, 2009

Living With HIV: 'The Truth Sets Me Free'

May 18, 2009, —

By Debbie DeVoe

The year 2006 wasn't such a good one for Mary Waithira

Kariuki. First, the 47-year-old Kenyan came down with pneumonia in July. During

her two-week hospital stay, the doctors also tested her for tuberculosis and

for HIV. Both tests came back positive.

Mary Waithira Kariuki

Through her deep faith in God, Mary Waithira Kariuki accepted her husband's death and her HIV-positive status. Photo by Debbie DeVoe

When she heard the news, Mary didn't wail or cry. Living her

deep Catholic faith, she accepted her status right away. She knew God wouldn't

have her face anything more than she was capable of confronting. And she also

knew that her husband's drinking and loose ways might get her into trouble one

day. She just didn't know how much trouble.

The doctors put her on an eight-month course of treatment

for the tuberculosis. When her husband also tested positive for HIV, they

immediately put him on antiretroviral treatment due to his weakened immune

system. Unfortunately, neither treatment worked.

Tragic Circumstances

When Mary's first course of tuberculosis treatment failed,

her doctor started her on a second round and put her on antiretroviral

treatment as well. She quickly began feeling much better and stronger.

Then a few months later, in July 2007, Mary's right leg was

hit hard by a stone kicked up by a car on a Nairobi street. The leg swelled up

terribly and just wouldn't heal, so she returned to the hospital. The doctors

eventually recommended surgery and a six-month hospital stay to recuperate.

With Mary in the hospital, her husband had a hard time

caring for himself and their five children. He had stopped drinking when he

started taking antiretroviral medications, but, with his health further weakened

by diabetes, his liver failed.

"I trust in God. He's a caring God and a healer. In my heart I had great courage and faith that it wasn't my time to die."

~Mary Waithira Kariuki

One day, lying on her hospital bed a month after her

surgery, Mary was told her husband had died. She couldn't even get up to

comfort her children or take care of the funeral arrangements. Her sisters came

to town to help. Her 24-year-old son, though, would now need to care for all of

the children.

Good Medicine and Deep Faith

Somehow Mary survived four more months in the hospital and

then another three months at home in a wheelchair. Her eldest son continued to

care for both her and his siblings—with some help from friends—though Mary also

believes God cared for them all.

"I trust in God. He's a caring God and a healer,"

Mary says. "In my heart I had great courage and faith that it wasn't my

time to die." Without this faith, she is sure she wouldn't have survived.

And somehow, her children were able to feed themselves and her during her

hospital stay.

Mary Waithira Kariuki openly shares her HIV status

Mary Waithira Kariuki openly shares her HIV status to educate others and encourage people who might also have the virus to seek treatment. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Little by little, Mary's strength increased. Fortunately, as

a government employee with the Ministry of Lands, she had insurance to cover

her hospital stay and medical fees. She is now up and walking, though her leg

still aches from time to time. And she's working again, in a position closer to

her home that lets her sit and type instead of standing all day.

Sharing her Positive Spirit

Mary is thankful for the support and medications she

receives from Nazareth Hospital outside of Nairobi, one of the 27 faith-based

health facilities in Kenya that Catholic Relief Services supports through the

AIDSRelief consortium to provide HIV care and treatment. She is also thankful

for her HIV support group for giving her the additional emotional strength so

critical to healing.

Now Mary wants to make sure anyone living with HIV

understands that it is not a death sentence. If people are just willing to go

to their local hospital, they can get the medicine they need, typically free of


"The whole world needs to know, needs encouragement to

know you can live well," Mary explains. "I accept this is what God

wants me to face. Sharing the truth sets me free."

Debbie DeVoe is CRS' regional information officer in East

Africa based in Nairobi.