Debra Stephens fought back tears as she shared memories of drug addiction and being diagnosed with HIV.
Inside the CommWell Health (CWH) of Newton Grove/Spivey’s Corner building, the company’s representatives became teary-eyed as she spoke. But they also laughed as the optimistic survivor talked about her journey with a little humor. She was one of several who participated in the 30th anniversary for the Positive Life Program (PLP).
Established in 1987, PLP provides patient-centered HIV care to people such as Stephens. Under the leadership of Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Makondo Shimukowa, more than individuals of all ages receive assistance.
Stephens, a North Carolina native, contracted HIV in 1989 while living in New York. A few years later, the virus effected her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
“They told me I’ll never walk again,” she said.
But she proudly expressed how God had another plan for her when she began walking through therapy. After her return to the state, the struggles involved a battle with cocaine, harsh living conditions and overcoming a coma, while living in Raleigh. She late discovered the services of the PLP and made a decision to get clean on April 23, 2010 with help from CWH.
“I’ve been clean seven years,” Stephens said.
For Stephens, the number 23 is very significant for her. She was diagnosed with HIV on Sept. 23, 1989. But she stressed she’s looking forward to more positive days. She currently resides in Fayetteville, but she don’t mind coming to rural Sampson County or what she called “the country.” She recommends PLP going through the challenges of living with HIV or drug addiction. She says professionals are more concerned with her person and don’t see her as just another number.
“That’s the most important for somebody who has so many negative things going on,” she said. “It lifts you up …”
Stephens said she was honored to share her story.
“The beauty of positive life for me is that you encompass everything,” she said.
Since its creation, the program now helps patients with medical, dental, behavioral health, case management, pharmacy needs and counseling. During the event, many individuals were recognized for their contribution to PLP. Some of the PLP officials includes Lisa McKeithan, Stephanie Atkinson, Cindy Songs, Albrea Crowder, Meranda Bennett, Lisa McKeithan, Thomas McLaughlin Jr. and Caprina Monds. Pam Tripp, CWH CEO and Encouragement Officer, honored Shimukowa and others for their contributions to the PLP program, which comes with many accolades.
“These people can be anywhere else in the world,” said Tripp, “but they’re right here.”