Tale of a Survivor: Jessie Bie
Coming out to his parents about having HIV wasn’t something Jessie Bie planned to do. His coming out happened as a result of his being diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in 2010. PML is a brain infection that flourishes in immune-compromised patients, and is rarely seen in patients with HIV since the advent of combination anti-viral therapy. Bie has no memory of what happened or how he got to the hospital the fateful night that lead to his hospitalization, but his friends tell him they had to break into his apartment to rescue him when he became confused and nonsensical on the phone. Without treatment, PML is often fatal but Bie was lucky to have had his friend’s intervene to get him into treatment and care.
As a gay man of Filipino heritage, family and community are critical to Bie. His sister called their parents and though it was rocky at first, as his parents struggled with the news, they eventually got over their fears and phobias and back to the love they feel for their son. Bie says that his relationship with his parents has improved now that he is no longer keeping this big secret from them.
In 2008 Bie was busy tending to his recovery—he had just stopped using methamphetamine—by going to support groups and counseling. He was trying to rebuild his life: his doctor retired and he recalled, “I just didn’t have the time or the energy to find a new doctor.” But not being in care meant that Bie was also no longer taking the antiviral medications that were keeping him healthy.
It was a difficult time for Bie, but he knew two things: that getting help, helps; and that AHP could support him. Once his physical health improved? stabilized?, Bie enrolled in 20 sessions of individual therapy. When that was over he joined the Considering Work Group, AHP’s initiative to offer psychological and emotional support to people with HIV or people with disabling mental illness who are considering a return to work, school, or other gainful activities. Bie loved his counselor but realized that it was too soon for him to return to work or school. Still, he wanted to stay connected. He joined AHP’s Strong and Proud support group for people who have gone through trauma, a place that allowed him to talk about his queerness and his identity in a safe space with others who shared their triumphs and struggles together.
With support from AHP, Bie got back on an HIV antiviral treatment regimen, which returned to him the energy and zest for life that is his nature, best expressed in his mode of transportation—a razor scooter—and his vocation: dancing with the Steamroller Dance Company. Bie so values the support he receives at AHP that he is now enrolled in an ongoing group for HIV long-term survivors. He said he doesn’t mind that most of the guys in his group are older than he is: he looks to them for guidance, and he gets to witness and prepare for the challenges of aging with HIV.