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BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 16:58 GMT
Shawn: 'Don't judge people with HIV'
Living Positive follows six HIV-positive people, each of them on the same day, in six different parts of the world.

Thursday, 1 December 2005
BBC Two, 2100 GMT

Thirty-year-old Shawn lives with his wife Gwenn in Charlotteville, Virginia, in the US.

He is a haemophiliac and contracted HIV when he was given infected blood products as a child.

Shawn was diagnosed with HIV when he was 11 years old and expelled from school as a result.

Legislation has subsequently been passed to make expulsion based on HIV status illegal.

He had previously been infected with Hepatitis B at the age of six.

When his HIV status became known, Shawn experienced discrimination from some of his friends' parents who would not allow their children to socialise with him.

Although it was common knowledge that he was HIV positive, in his high school he never discussed it. In his senior year, Shawn was voted Best Personality by his classmates.

Shawn did not discuss HIV with his first serious girlfriend either, with whom he never had intercourse.

When she found out from his parents, they separated. Not because he had HIV, but because he refused to talk about it.

Changing attitudes

In 1996, Shawn decided to tell people about his HIV status and created a website called mypetvirus.com

The response he got was sympathetic, possibly because of the manner in which he contracted HIV.

It sucks for everybody who has it, so don't make it suck worse for somebody by throwing daggers at them and judging them

He still believes there is a great deal more stigma attached to people who contracted the virus through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex.

"When I first started speaking about living with HIV," he says, "I would often get asked: 'Well how did you get it?' And then I'd say 'I got it as a child through blood product treatments.'

"People who haven't had such a rosy path in life deserve the same compassion... because this is a medical condition.

"It sucks for everybody who has it, so don't make it suck worse for somebody by throwing daggers at them and judging them."

When Shawn was first diagnosed, doctors told his parents he had between six months and two years to live.

He did not receive treatment for a further 13 years.

But thankfully now, the attitude to HIV is completely different.

Finding love

Shawn and Gwenn, 30, met when she was in graduate school, seven years ago.

Shawn and Gwenn at their wedding
Shawn and Gwenn married in 2004

At the time, Gwenn was undertaking a masters degree related to HIV education. She phoned Shawn as she was looking for someone who was HIV-positive to give a talk.

Although he did not end up being involved in the research (she was searching for someone who had contracted the virus sexually), they still met each other at the event.

They became friends and then eventually realised they had feelings for each other.

They use condoms, and have never had one break. If it were to, there is an anti-HIV treatment you can use within 72 hours of potential exposure to the virus.


Shawn only started taking HIV medication in 1999 when his health began to deteriorate.

His CD4 count - which shows how far the HIV/Aids virus has progressed - went down and his viral load went up.

He took the treatment every other week so he could cope with the side effects, which include nausea, lack of mental energy and a feeling of "flatness".

Earlier this year he stopped taking medication to finish his memoir of living with haemophilia and HIV, entitled My Pet Virus (which will be released early next year).

Although it can vary, healthy HIV-negative adults usually have a CD4 count of between 600 and 1,200.

When he stopped his medication, Shawn's CD4 dropped to 150, and his viral load went up to 500,000.

He was forced to restart on a new combination of drugs, and currently the CD4 is at 630 and the viral load is at undetectable.

Since 2000, Shawn and Gwenn have run education programmes for college students, teaching them about HIV, Aids and sexually transmitted infections, from the viewpoint of a couple in a relationship where one is HIV-positive.

Living Positive was broadcast on Thursday, 1 December, 2005 on BBC Two at 2100 GMT.

A debate with the six people featured in Living Positive was broadcast on Friday, 2 December 2005 on BBC Four at 1900 GMT.

Country profile: United States of America
04 Oct 05 |  Country profiles


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