LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Over 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. An additional 20 percent of Americans are infected with the virus - but don't know it. The diagnosis can be scary, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence.
Angus Carter's life today is a far cry from what it was two decades ago. "I was an intravenous drug user," says Carter, "which means that I was shooting drugs - mainline, vein and I contracted HIV."
Carter was serving a 20-year prison sentence when his HIV test came back positive and thoughts of ending his life began flooding his mind. "I was confused, I was angry, I was in a lot of pain mentally," he says, "just hurting."
At that point, Carter had the choice to let his diagnosis of HIV control him or to take control of the diagnosis and change his life. "I began to educate myself and I found out a lot about HIV," says Carter, "and different activists and I just decided to live and embrace life to the fullest."
Carter says he's now a free man - no longer behind the physical bars of a prison or behind the mental bars of a life-altering diagnosis. Carter is not alone in his daily battle with HIV. 900 people in Southwest Louisiana are living with HIV today and Louisiana is now in the top five states in the country for the growing number of new HIV cases.
At Moss Regional Hospital's Comprehensive Care Clinic, Dr. Carlos Choucino treats patients like Carter who have an HIV or AIDS diagnosis. Dr. Choucino says the outcome of the patient centers on personal initiative. "We're here just to provide the science and give some clinical information as well as some advice about what to do," he says, "but it's completely up to the patient to be able to do those things."
At the end of the day, Carter says the biggest lesson he's learned through the ups and downs of living with HIV comes down to The Golden Rule. "This could be you. This could be your brother, your sister," says Carter, "treat a person the way you want to be treated. We can prevent this thing. We can beat this with education."
Many, but not all HIV patients have to take daily medications to keep the virus under control. Carter takes two pills a day and will have to do so for the rest of his life. He will also have to undergo blood tests several times throughout the year to ensure that his levels are in line.
*To find out about the services offered at Moss Regional's Comprehensive Care Clinic, call 475-8100. You can catch Angus Carter's community radio program Sundays at noon on 104.9 FM.