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'I should have been smarter,' says woman fighting AIDS

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By Jenny Hartley

Yvonne "Bay Bay" Miller wants people to know a few things about AIDS.

There's no such thing as safe sex, only safer sex, and it doesn't take long for the disease to develop from HIV to full-blown AIDS.

People don't die from AIDS; they die from AIDS-related complications due to a ravaged immune system.

Miller, 48, should know.

She has AIDS, and she wants people to know her story before she dies, so maybe she can help someone before it's too late for them. She has a drive to look out for others, especially young people, who often think, "It can't happen to me."

Miller said she contracted HIV during sex in 2002, and the disease developed into full-blown AIDS in 2005.

Was it shocking to learn that she had HIV? Was she upset?

She says no. She already suffered from hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and mental illness. She was hit by a car as a child, and doctors didn't expect her to live.

Sometimes she's in so much pain that she passes out. She's prone to seizures, but despite her health problems, she smiles most of the time.

"People think I'm off the wall," Miller said. "When I'm depressed, I'm very depressed. But there's not too many days like that."

Miller's prognosis isn't good.

Hospice workers from Serenity Palliative and Hospice Care of Rock Hill come in to see her, and her cousin, Ann, a certified nursing assistant, takes care of her. Miller has also gained a lot of support through the Catawba Care Coalition through the years.

Miller warns that a lot of older women are getting the AIDS virus. She urges young people to stay away from drugs and alcohol, because they can often lower inhibitions and lead to unprotected sexual intercourse.

"Stay celibate until you get married," Miller said. "Some people think they can tell by looking at a person that they have AIDS, but that's not true. Young people need to start thinking before they do things."

Miller said other people in her condition might consider suicide, but that doesn't cross her mind.

"I love me too much," she said, with a laugh. "I love the good days."

Still sometimes she thinks about the people she took care of when she was a nursing assistant – those with diabetes, HIV and AIDS.

"I should have been smarter," she said.

Regrets?

"About what?" Miller asks. "There's nothing I can change."

AIDS rates climbing

Kathy George, a disease investigator and intervention specialist for S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in Lancaster, said there isn't as much attention put on HIV/AIDS as in the past.

"But the rates are still climbing," she said, especially for men who have sex with men, and the 15 to 25 age group.

Lancaster County ranks 34th in the nation for AIDS cases per 100,000 people.

The Lancaster Health Department, 1833 Pageland Highway, offers free HIV testing by appointment. Testing methods include drawing blood or a finger prick, which gives results in 20 minutes. For details, call 286-9948.

Free testing is also available at Catawba Care Coalition for Lancaster County residents. The agency offers an oral swab test option. Go to www.catawbacare.org for details or call (803) 909-6363.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com 283-1151