Although the diagnosis of HIV/Aids came as a shock to Cindy Pivacic, finding out several years later that her long-term partner had known about his status and never told her – despite the risk of spreading the infection – was even more devastating. Following her experience, Cindy was determined to set a precedent within the South African legal fraternity regarding a person knowingly infecting another and is hoping to change the laws, making it a criminal act to withhold your status to your sexual partners.
Cindy was diagnosed with HIV/Aids in 2004 after contracting the disease from her partner Wayne, with whom she’d been in a committed relationship for three years.
“I had always insisted on using protection during intercourse but one night the condom broke. Had I known better, I would have continued using protection further into the relationship, but I thought the damage had been done, not realising that there was a chance that that one encounter may not have infected me, and discontinued using protection,” says Cindy, an author and motivational speaker who also works as an HIV skills trainer. ” In late 2004 Wayne started getting sick. He was constantly ill and after three serious stomach conditions had to be hospitalised. He had emergency surgery and was diagnosed with bowel TB. He was also tested and confirmed HIV positive three days later. This was before the Rapid test which gives a result in 15 minutes was available or offered. I was also tested and seven days later my results came back confirming I was also HIV+.”
Cindy remembers standing at Wayne’s bedside when the nurse from the pathology asked her if Wayne was her son – he’s 14 years her junior. “At the top of her voice she blurted, ‘did he tell you he had an HIV- test and has his results?’. I was gobsmacked at her asking this in a general ward full of people. I looked at her, she nodded, I looked at Wayne and he confirmed this information with a nod of assent as well. Obviously, this blew my mind. Strangely enough, not so much because of the realisation of Wayne’s status, but because of the sheer lack of professionalism in so blatantly divulging this information in a ward full of people. Her public announcement almost overrode the actual information that was communicated. I transferred whatever anger or shock I may have felt for Wayne entirely into my fury at the phlebotomist. Wayne was still in hospital and I focused on how I could go about having her reprimanded for her lack of professionalism and breach of confidentiality. I was livid at her for her public disclosure of Wayne’s HIV status, and by implication, mine, and decided to pursue it with a vengeance. I went directly to the GP in charge of Wayne, and had her immediate superior called up. My fury at her actions seemed to mask any other feelings I may have had regarding my status at that time. Even if there had been someone to turn to for support, it is highly unlikely that I would have shared or bared my soul to them as I have never shared my inner thoughts and feelings with anyone. All I could think of was her demise and my own situation – how I would have to change my entire lifestyle, habits and deal with it. A calm reserve and belief came over me as I had no doubt that I would survive any complication that came my way.”
Cindy says going home later that day was as normal to her as returning from a day of shopping. She never felt ill and thought perhaps her body would react differently to the virus. At the time she was 46 and was super fit (for an hour, five sometime six days a week, and playing squash) and healthy.
It wasn’t long, however, before she started experiencing the signs and symptoms of Aids.
“Between 2004 and 2008 I suffered from Pneumonia, Shingles (six bouts), two strokes, TB meningitis and Cancer (Angioimmunoblasticlymphadenopathy – a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, her Cancer was at stage 3 and associated to her HIV). At my lowest moment, I remember drifting in and out of consciousness. I had no idea how ill I was. I was in a government hospital, but only vaguely aware of my surroundings. I now believe that I was too sick to realise that I was probably at the lowest point of my life, alone and confused, and just too weak to put up my usual gloves-off fight,” she says. “Despite being so ill, I never told anyone my status until 2006. I was taking my Mother to the airport when she blurted, ‘so are you HIV positive?’. I said ‘yes ‘and that was it, done! In 2010 I worked a brief stint for a NPO and towards the end of this contract thoughts that had been on the back burner for some time came to the fore. I decided to come out about my status with as public a disclosure as I could muster in order to start making a liveable income and support others in the same dilemma. After finalising the website www.cindypivacic.co.za for AID My Journey-Support, the official launch happened that same afternoon. My son and daughter were informed prior to this by outside sources, disclosing illicitly. The website in effect announced my HIV positive status to the world including all my friends and family.”
Just as Cindy had started feeling ‘comfortable’ in her own skin, she was hit with shocking news. During the showing of a local documentary where Cindy was one of three ladies being interviewed it came to her attention that Wayne, who allegedly infected all three, knew his HIV status two years prior to infecting her and failed to disclose his status during this time or since. “I decided to take the matter the legal route and although the attorneys handling the case have not as yet proceeded to court, the matter has been registered with the High Court,” she explains. “Currently, as it stands, our country has no such laws in place regarding a person knowingly infecting another. Since 2001, 24 people have been prosecuted in the United Kingdom (20 in England and Wales, and four in Scotland, which has a different legal system) for giving their sexual partners HIV. However, in South Africa there has yet to be a similar case that’s reached court. After finding out about Wayne, my objective was to set a precedent in SA as years back the then leadership, led by former president Thabo Mbeki removed all matters that would deal with matters such as this, from our constitution. I wanted to ensure that people who are HIV positive are held responsible should they act in a manner where they, knowing their HIV/Aids status, infect others with/on purpose thus criminalising the individual, not the virus. Situations like my own should not occur as people should learn to take responsibility, either by using protection or disclosing their status to a prospective partner, thereby giving them the option to engage in a safe sexual relationship.”
In addition to trying to change the law Cindy is also helping others through two books she’s written about her experience. Error, Terror & Triumph is a pocket book that she hopes the youth entering the adult and working world will read as it enlightens them of potential pitfalls, panics and pleasures that could occur and how to avoid or embrace the lesson, should they happen. Once they have read this they will hopefully feel the need to read The Deadly Seducer, which opens us up to the fact that we can all make mistakes and be complacent in the risks we take, sometimes unwittingly but also knowingly. More than that though, The Deadly Seducer shows that it is not just, as previously perceived and in some prejudiced cases unfortunately, people do still, in their ignorance, consider HIV a black and gay issue,” says Cindy, who is currently on ARV treatment and has been since 2008. “By writing about my personal journey, I hope to open the minds of all to the fact that HIV can infect anyone. And by doing so will encourage people to be more responsible for their life and well-being.”
For more info on HIV/Aids: Aids Foundation South Africa