27-year-old Arhys Prince says HIV diagnosis has given life new meaning
Arhys Zhen Prince has used his HIV diagnosis this January as an opportunity to change his life for the better.
The 27-year-old, originally from Acapulco, Mexico, said he’s been getting tested every three to six months since he came out at 19.
Prince said when he went to the health department to get tested this time, “I kind of knew it.”
But he added, “I was still shocked.”
As a young Latino gay man, Prince is in three high-risk categories for contracting HIV.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the rate of HIV infections among Hispanics is three times as high as among whites. Meanwhile, people ages 13-24 now account for 26 percent of all new infections. And, although the rate has gone down over the years, gay and bisexual men still account for 61 percent of new HIV infections.
Getting out the message to high-risk groups is among the ongoing challenges facing local HIV/AIDS organizations as they convene on Saturday, Dec. 1, for the 25th annual World AIDS Day, which has the goal of “getting to zero” — zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.
“We need to get better at addressing communities of color and the gay community with the prevention message,” said Don Maison, CEO of AIDS Services
Dallas, one of the partners for World AIDS Day Dallas. “People are still dying.”
‘This changed my way of life’
The summer before he tested positive, Prince got sick with a throat infection. The illness lasted four weeks and he lost 20 pounds. He said it hurt so much, he cried every time he tried to eat.
His doctor at Bluitt Flowers, a Parkland hospital community clinic in Oak Cliff with an HIV specialty, told him she was concerned because the infection normally appeared in people with AIDS. But she tested him for HIV and the result was negative.
Prince said he thinks he knows when he contracted the virus but it took longer than usual to seroconvert and produce enough antibodies to return a positive test result.
Prince said at first he blamed himself for contracting the virus, but spending time blaming himself or anyone else was unproductive.
As a 27-year-old who contracted HIV 15 years after effective treatments for the disease were found, he said he thinks of the virus differently than his parents’ generation.
He said that three decades later, after so much research, HIV is a treatable illness. But he said there are two ways to approach treatment.
“One is destructive and the other is positive,” he said.
After diagnosis, some people run scared the rest of their lives or do nothing. He called that destructive. He said others take the news as a sign it’s time to make changes. He said before he was diagnosed with HIV, all he cared about was working and partying — and he had no goals.
“This changed my way of life,” he said. “It gave my life meaning. It was my chance to tear myself apart and rebuild myself.”
He called it a great journey. This spring, his T-cell count dropped from 540 to 300 in a couple of months. In May, he went on medication and his T-cell count is back over 600 with an undetectable viral load count.
‘There’s nothing I can’t do’
When Prince first went on medication, he spoke with his CrossFit coach whom he’d been working with for more than a year.
CrossFit gyms feature short, intense workouts combining a variety of movements with various pieces of equipment.
“What if things go wrong?” he asked his coach. “What if my body isn’t strong enough to keep me alive?”
He said his coach told him, “You’ve done it before. You can do it.”
And he hasn’t looked back.
“There’s nothing this year I feel bad about,” he said. “I’ve pushed myself to do things I’ve never done before.”
That includes going back to school. He won a LEAP Scholarship from the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. In June, he’ll graduate from the University of North Texas with a degree in human resource management.
He plans to get his teaching certificate and wants to teach high school Spanish, English as a Second Language or math. He got A’s in calculus and statistics last semester.
Among his new activities is tutoring.
“I tutor because I can change people’s lives,” he said.
He needed to prove himself physically as well.
Over the summer, he hiked in Yosemite even though he’d never been hiking before.
He never was a runner before, but he ran a 5K and took first place.
In September, he was set to bike the 150-mile Lone Star Ride that was rained out. He’s planning to participate next year. Although the fundraising proved daunting, he succeeded in that, too.
“I had to prove to myself HIV can’t stop me,” he said. “There’s nothing I can’t do because I’m positive.”
He said he’s reinforced relationships with his family and friends as well — in addition to possibly even saving his father’s life.
Prince moved to Dallas from Acapulco with his mother and brother when he was 13. They live in Oak Cliff with another woman and her three daughters.When he went back to school, he moved back in with them.
Although he’s called both Rosie and Diosy “Mom” for more than a decade, he said he didn’t realize they were lesbian partners until they came out to him just two years ago.
Since moving to Texas, Prince had no contact with his father. After being diagnosed, he called his father who still lives in Acapulco. His father had gotten remarried after he left with his mother. But he found out he had something in common with his father — his dad also had AIDS.
But his father hadn’t gotten medical treatment in a year, had contracted opportunistic infections and wasn’t on medication. He said his father was living with a cultural stigma of shame for having AIDS.
“He was just going to die,” he said.
That call changed his father’s life.
“I talked to him about how people live,” he said.
He said his father went to a doctor and is now on medication. “He’s back to normal like nothing happened,” he said.
Prince said he’s been called descarado, an insult meaning bold-faced, blatant or impertinent. It’s a label he wears proudly as it’s used to describe a gay man who’s out and doesn’t care who knows or what they think.
But he does care when he’s talking to people about HIV. He said he forgave himself for contracting HIV.
“I always tell people to get tested, but that won’t keep you from getting it,” he said. “Be careful. Be safe. Don’t do what will get you in that situation.”
Although he wants people to get the safe-sex message, if someone tests positive, he wants them to know what they should do.
“We have so many great resources here in Dallas,” he said. “And AIDS is not the same as it was in the 80s.”
World AIDS Day Dallas
More than 30 Dallas organizations mark World AIDS Day from 3-6 p.m. Saturday at Main Street Garden, 1900 Main St. Anthony and Sarah Garcia/ASG, Denise Lee and Gary Floyd perform. An AIDS Memorial Quilt Ceremony with six panels from the quilt begins at 3:45. Speakers include Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson, openly HIV-positive Ms. Plus America Michelle Anderson and Otis Harris Jr., featured in the MTV special I’m Positive. For more info, go to WorldAidsDayDallas.com.
Other World AIDS Day events
• C.U.R.E. and Health Services of North Texas present speakers and panels from the Names Project Quilt at 4 p.m.
Saturday at Art Centre of Plano, 901 E. 18th St.
• Carnival of Life — with snacks, games, free HIV testing, gift card raffles, booths, prizes and AIDS organization displays — will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Resource Connection of Tarrant County, 1100 Circle Dr., Fort Worth.
• Dallas County offers free HIV testing from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, 5710 E. R.L. Thornton Freeway.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2012.