Born in Mexico City, Daniel Leyva came to the United States for a job opportunity with the United Nations Development Program. In 1998 he decided to go to the doctor for a check up – he had a cold that he felt was turning into pneumonia.
“I went to the doctor, took an HIV test that was offered and it was positive” Daniel said. “I’m a huge advocate of early treatment but in my case, I really didn’t have much of a choice. I was referred to a HIV specialist immediately and started a regimen but struggled at first to find the right treatment.”
While Daniel doesn’t feel fortunate that he tested positive, he does feel fortunate for almost everything else. “I was fortunate to test positive at the time and place that I did. Nobody ever said, ‘you’re going to die.’ My social workers, case managers, nurses and doctors all were positive. They said ‘you’ll have the closest thing you can have to a normal life.’
Through his diagnosis, Daniel found a friend that took him to The Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village. “Church may not be for everyone and spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean religious, but it’s how I found the strength to deal with everything else.”
After that, Daniel decided that he was going to “find a way to make my HIV fit.”
He decided to open up about his status. “My family, church and doctors were all on my side. Everybody became involved.” He wondered how he could transform this into something positive for others so he worked to get a degree in Pastoral Care and Counseling.
“I see myself as a ‘wounded healer.’ I help people through changes in their life, transforming negativity into positivity.”
Daniel is now the Director of The Latino Religious Leadership Project for The Latino Commission on AIDS in New York City. “Many people wonder why churches aren’t more involved. Are they members of society? Yes! They are the same people who you see at the supermarket”
“My job is to make sure the people in the religious community have all of the necessary information. That means I have to be up-to-date on everything so I can convey that to them.”
Daniel’s advice to someone with HIV is also his mantra, “Don’t isolate yourself. No matter how shameful you may feel or how scared you may be, the worst thing is to isolate yourself. You need friends, support and companionship to push you forward.”
“I was fortunate to have access to support groups but with funding cuts, some are disappearing – but friendships and relationships are always there.”
What’s Daniel looking forward to in the future?
“When I turned 40, my mother wrote in a card ‘Life really starts here – This is the beginning’ and she was right.”
“I’m going to marry my partner of 9-years, we’ve been engaged. I’m working on a business degree at The City University of New York and of course, a cure for HIV would be ideal…one day, I’d like to be HIV free.”
Copyright 2013, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!