Through tears and smiles, Debra Stephens shares her journey of drug addiction and living with HIV. She was one of many patients and colleagues who celebrated the 30th anniversary of the CommWell Health Positive Life Program.
Established in 1987, the Positive Life Program provides patient-centered HIV Care to patients like Ms. Stevens. Under the leadership of Dr. Makondo Shimukowa, Positive Life Medical Director, the Positive Life Program cares for over 400 patients of all ages.
Stephens, a North Carolina native, contracted HIV in 1989 while living in New York. A few years later, the virus affected 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 her therapy. After her return to North Carolina, her struggles involved a battle with cocaine, harsh living conditions, and overcoming a coma, while living in Raleigh. She later discovered that CommWell Health’s Positive Life program and decided to get clean on April 23, 2010.
“The program has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, and we love caring for Ms. Stephens and all of our patients. We have a compassionate team that our patients call their family.”
Ms. Stephens lives in Fayetteville, but she comes to “the country” to receive her care. She recommends the Positive Life Program for anyone who is going through the challenges of living with HIV or drug addiction. She says the people in the Positive Life Program value her as a person and don’t see her as another number.
The Positive Life Program now serves 451 patients and has been recognized by the United States Department of Health and Human Services for best practices for HIV medical and dental care integrations. More recently, the program received the National Rural Health Association’s 2017 Outstanding Rural Health Program.
“We are proud of our Positive Life program colleagues in their work to provide the best care to persons living with HIV,” says Pam Tripp, CEO of CommWell Health. “These people could work anywhere else in the world, but they chose to be here.”