Know Your Status: Advocates concerned about spread of HIV in the Valley

Local News

Rachael Leestamper knew her boyfriend had something to hide.

What, exactly, remained a mystery until Leestamper found herself pregnant five years ago.

“I was controlled. I couldn’t talk to my mom. I couldn’t talk to anybody or else I would get hit or locked in a room,” Leestamper said, adding later: “When I was pregnant it really hit me. Every time I did blood work he wouldn’t let me speak to anyone.”

Doctors delivered the bad news: At 22 years old, Leestamper tested positive for HIV while she was pregnant.

“Am I going to be around long enough to be a mom?” Leestamper said, recalling the thoughts that raced through her head. “To raise him, to teach him things.”

Thankfully, her son Quincy tested negative for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

“My son saved my life,” said Leestamper, who left her boyfriend and moved to the Rio Grande Valley.

Now 28 years old, Leestamper works with the Valley AIDS Council to educate people about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur every year among people aged 15 to 24. Hispanics contract syphilis and chlamydia at rates twice that of non-Hispanic whites.

About 2,000 people in the Valley have HIV, according to the AIDS Council, and about five people contract the virus every week. About 20 percent of the new cases involve a person less than 24 years old.

Adrian Castellanos, who believes he was infected at 16 years old, is among them. With medication, the HIV in his system is now undetectable.

A lack of local sex education and a reluctance among some Valley parents to talk about sex with their children contributes to the problem, Castellanos said.

CBS 4 News spoke with several Valley parents, who said some Hispanic cultural taboos may be partly to blame for the rate of sexually transmitted diseases.

The lack of sex education also plays a role, said Oscar Lopez of the AIDS Council.

The AIDS Council attempts to help by offering free HIV testing, which shows results in minutes. Testing for other infections takes up to two weeks.

Some infections, including syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, are curable. Others, including HIV and herpes, aren’t.

“Just go get tested,” Leestamper said. “I know it’s scary and you don’t want it to be you, but it can be anybody.”

Leestamper is now married to a man who’s HIV negative. Thanks to medication, the virus in her system isn’t detectable.

Today, people with STDs and HIV can manage the risks and live productive lives, Leestamper said.

“I’m taking my medicines and I’m healthy” Leestamper said. “I have my life going for me and my son and it’ll be okay.”

You can call the AIDS Council at (888) 311-2437.Rachael Leestamper knew her boyfriend had something to hide.

What, exactly, remained a mystery until Leestamper found herself pregnant five years ago.

“I was controlled. I couldn’t talk to my mom. I couldn’t talk to anybody or else I would get hit or locked in a room,” Leestamper said, adding later: “When I was pregnant it really hit me. Every time I did blood work he wouldn’t let me speak to anyone.”

Doctors delivered the bad news: At 22 years old, Leestamper tested positive for HIV while she was pregnant.

“Am I going to be around long enough to be a mom?” Leestamper said, recalling the thoughts that raced through her head. “To raise him, to teach him things.”

Thankfully, her son Quincy tested negative for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

“My son saved my life,” said Leestamper, who left her boyfriend and moved to the Rio Grande Valley.

Now 28 years old, Leestamper works with the Valley AIDS Council to educate people about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur every year among people aged 15 to 24. Hispanics contract syphilis and chlamydia at rates twice that of non-Hispanic whites.

About 2,000 people in the Valley have HIV, according to the AIDS Council, and about five people contract the virus every week. About 20 percent of the new cases involve a person less than 24 years old.

Adrian Castellanos, who believes he was infected at 16 years old, is among them. With medication, the HIV in his system is now undetectable.

A lack of local sex education and a reluctance among some Valley parents to talk about sex with their children contributes to the problem, Castellanos said.

CBS 4 News spoke with several Valley parents, who said some Hispanic cultural taboos may be partly to blame for the rate of sexually transmitted diseases.

The lack of sex education also plays a role, said Oscar Lopez of the AIDS Council.

The AIDS Council attempts to help by offering free HIV testing, which shows results in minutes. Testing for other infections takes up to two weeks.

Some infections, including syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, are curable. Others, including HIV and herpes, aren’t.

“Just go get tested,” Leestamper said. “I know it’s scary and you don’t want it to be you, but it can be anybody.”

Leestamper is now married to a man who’s HIV negative. Thanks to medication, the virus in her system isn’t detectable.

Today, people with STDs and HIV can manage the risks and live productive lives, Leestamper said.

“I’m taking my medicines and I’m healthy” Leestamper said. “I have my life going for me and my son and it’ll be okay.”

You can call the AIDS Council at (888) 311-2437.

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