Celeste DeShields brought a giant quilt inscribed “For All God’s Children” at a community day over the weekend in support of the island’s HIV charity.
Ms DeShields, 70, who has been living with HIV since 1993, said the message was: “It can happen to anybody.”
The charity, Support Therapy for Aids patients and their Relatives, held an open house on Saturday at Winterhaven, a residential home in Smith’s for people with HIV.
It came before 31st annual global commemoration of World Aids Day yesterday.
Included in the ceremony was the display of the Aids memorial quilt in San Francisco, a giant tribute to the people lost to the virus.
It took several people to lift one side of Ms DeShields’s quilt at Winterhaven — but her memorial took her only two weeks of steady work to crochet.
Ms DeShields said: “I’m glad it’s turned out so nice. I wanted to make it for Aids awareness.”
She said she had contracted the virus while living in Jacksonville, Florida, after a man at her house drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Ms DeShields said: “I found out after I got sick. My hands and legs swelled up, I went to the doctor, and that’s how I found out.”
If unchecked, the virus leads to Aids, but Ms DeShields was successfully treated with drugs such as AZT. She said: “I got better, and I just pulled myself together. I didn’t dwell.”
Ms DeShields, from Somerset, went to a hotel job and has lived a full life since she received the diagnosis. She said she got involved volunteering with Star in 1995.
She said her attitude since getting the diagnosis was: “I just went with it. It happened — there’s nothing I can do about it.”
She refused to see HIV as the end of her life, telling “myself and my family, never say never”.
Asked if she faced discrimination, Ms DeShields said: “I definitively experienced that. It was mostly people who would not sit by me.
“I had children call me the walking dead. I turned around and said, I am a walking testimony. I’ve always been this way.”
She added: “But now people have come around a lot.”
The open house at Winterhaven started at noon after a morning of swimming, running, walking and cycling around Harrington Sound area to raise cash for Star, with a fun castle for children on the house grounds.
Ms DeShields said: “This is the first time I’ve seen this many people here. It’s a beautiful place.”
She said she had known little about HIV, adding: “I never heard anything about it until it happened to me.”
She added: “To all these young folks, do not be in a rush. I would like young people today to pay attention and realise this is HIV and it’s serious. Pay attention and be safe.”
• For more information, contact Support Therapy for Aids patients and their Relatives at 292-5951 or 335-4265