HIV positive Wake County man lives normal life as treatment evolves

Treatment for HIV and AIDS has significantly evolved over the years. Health officials believe because of technological advances -- making it no longer the death sentence it once was. People are living longer as a result.

"Why should I hate him? He didn't kill me," said Wake County resident Derwin Willoughby.

He no longer lives with the resentment he once felt after learning he was HIV positive. Extreme fatigue, weakness and no appetite brought him to Wakemed Hospital where he was diagnosed.

'Pose' tackles inequity in the AIDS fight in an emotional series finale

"It probably went on for months before I realized I was positive. When I talked to the doctor, I was told I had been positive since January. I was diagnosed in March," said Willoughby.

HIV positive since 2009, the Wake County resident said he had an unprotected sexual encounter with another man.

"The worst part about this is the women who get affected by it. In this lifestyle, we date men who are married or have girlfriends. What happens is these men get infected from a man they've hooked up with and go home and infect their wife. You'd be surprised at how many men like to get down as we call it," said Willoughby.

According to the North Carolina Public Health Department, black men and women make up the largest number of new HIV cases. Data shows an estimated 38,000 people are living with either HIV or AIDS across the Tar Heel state. Of those cases, 44 percent are young men ages 13 to 29. While women under the age of 40 make up 51 percent of those cases.

According to the CDC, North Carolina ranks eighth in the country out of 50 states for its number of HIV cases.

Despite that, those diagnosed with HIV are living longer and leading healthy lives.

"Initially people were getting sick and dying they had sarcoma with big bruises on their skin. Getting very sick and sallow. Now, you don't see that. You can't look at a person and tell they have HIV," said Dr. Melissa Haithcox-Dennis, executive director of Alliance of Aids Services Carolina. "Back in the day, folks would die. They'd be gone within months. Now they can live long, long time. We have a lot of long term survivors who have been living with HIV for more than 30, 40, 50 years now and that's something that has never happened."

Thanks to how treatment for HIV has evolved, people are living longer.

Twelve years after Willoughby first received the news he was positive, he takes a daily pill that reminds him that despite, contracting the virus, he's still able to live what he calls a normal life.

"I feel great. Outside of the disease itself, it has no toll on my day-to-day activities. There's nothing that prevents me from doing the same thing as anybody else," said Willoughby.

National HIV testing day falls on Sunday, June 27. Officials at Alliance of Aids Services Carolina say you should know your status because knowing means moving forward with treatment plans or prevention options.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.