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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Turning Bitter Experience to Better Treatment
Ian Shapira
November 11, 2011
Washington Post (09.10.11) - Friday, November 11, 2011

The HIV/AIDS nonprofit Women's Collective provides testing and other services from a strip mall storefront in Northeast Washington. The one-floor clinic has a staff of 18 and operates on a $1.6 million budget, of which $300,000 comes from the city, said founder Patricia Nalls.

Sabrina Heard is one of the community health workers at the Women's Collective. Each day, she juggles the complexities of living with HIV herself while providing support to clients.

Heard was diagnosed in 1990, when she gave birth to twins at Howard University Hospital. At that point, she had spent years in the District's crack scene after dropping out of Howard and working odd jobs at day care centers or as a seamstress.

"I didn't want to deal with the disappointment of not being able to return to school. I smoked drugs as a means of not feeling exactly what was going on at the time," said Heard.

In 2000, Heard enrolled in a local drug treatment center and her five children, none of whom have HIV, were moved into foster care. She completed detoxification, got her children back, and began volunteering and working part-time at Women's Collective. After being formally diagnosed with AIDS in 2004, Heard started taking antiretrovirals and her health improved.

In a private room at the clinic recently, Heard counseled a 37-year-old woman with HIV about keeping an upcoming doctor's appointment. "This may be new for you. I remember when it was new for me," Heard told the woman, clasping her hands tightly and offering a calming smile.