Absolutely Positive: The Story of Tami Haught - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Absolutely Positive: The Story of Tami Haught

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By Stephanie Angleson

sangleson@myabc5.com

As another legislative session gets underway, thousands of people will be there, pushing for new laws and policy.  One woman, in particular, has spent many years fighting for change.

Her story is so fascinating, she's been called one of the top 100 unsung heroes of her cause. And in her words, she is traveling a most unlikely path.

When you first meet Tami Haught, you get the impression she is exactly the person you want in your corner if you are in the fight of your life. And that's what she does, fight, on behalf of Iowans living with HIV and AIDS.

"Because I can speak out It's the passion to try to make it better for others who cannot speak out.  I have a big voice and a big mouth." Tami says.

She serves in local advocacy and support groups as well as a national steering committee. Her work earned her a place on POZ Magazine's top 100 unsung heroes in the nation. On this day,  Tami is at the State Capital on behalf of A group called CHAIN. She's trying to persuade legislators to change Iowa's criminal HIV law.  It's a law she says is outdated, unfair and may actually be a barrier in stopping the spread of the virus.

"Right now it's a one size fits all, the law is. And its one of the worst laws in the nation the most punitive in the nation."

Armed with backing from the department of public health, plus bi-partisan support at the statehouse, Tami seems cautiously optimistic. This may be her year.  She says, "We have the tools to prevent the spread of HIV. But we have to remove the barriers to get people into testing and treatment and care."

Even if a new law were to pass, Tami's fight is far from over. Another barrier is the stigma and discrimination that comes with a diagnosis.

It's a topic she addresses in outreach events.

"A lot of people feel if you are HIV+ you've already done something wrong. There's an automatic assumption of guilt". 

But it hasn't always been about laws and policy or even statistics and odds.  To really understand Tami's drive and activism, you have to go back to the beginning, where a story was born out of a simple twist of fate.

This story begins in 1993, a year where HIV was a volatile issue in America.  It was the furthest thing from Tami's mind.  Yet one day in August would bring her into that world, and tell us a lot about why she is so passionate today.

Tami was engaged to be married to her fiance Roger.  A few months before that wedding day, they got the news that Roger was sick with AIDS, and Tami was HIV positive.  Tami would later learn Roger was infected from a blood transfusion in the 1980's following a car accident. And Tami was also HIV positive.

"The doctor told us that we should cancel our wedding plans for Nov 27th ...because he wouldn't live long enough for us to get married."

Roger did live three years longer. Long enough to receive some unexpected news. Tami was pregnant.

"I was elated and I felt peace about the pregnancy.  I felt like God was taking away my husband but he was giving me a child."

That's when Tami started taking medications. Her son was born healthy and HIV negative. Motherhood gave Tami a will to live, but it wasn't enough for Roger. She says "he was tired of living with AIDS.  He hated it. So he gave up and stopped taking his meds"

Physically weak and mentally exhausted, Roger died two months before his son was born. For Tami, it wasn't an easy road raising a child as a single mother. There was a lot of worry. Would she live to see his milestones? Would other kids accept him?  There were some dark moments.

Tami recalls, "after I was diagnosed, it was like what did I do for God to punish me giving me HIV?"

Today, Tami looks back at that struggle. She's found peace with her faith. She lives what she calls a normal life, hoping her story can change the way we look at HIV.

"HIV was not supposed to touch my life.  I never would have imagined that.  And we don't want to believe it But HIV is one of the things in this world that is non-discriminatory," says Tami.

With better treatments, people with HIV are living longer healthier lives. But every year ...more people are diagnosed. Tami sees this in part as a breakdown in education.

She says "I am alarmed because we are putting another generation at risk because we are not talking to them,"

Better laws, more education, and an end to the stigmas. These are ideas that push Tami everyday. It's not a path she expected to walk down.

"Twenty years ago when I was diagnosed, I never imagined I'd still be here.  I'm supposed to be dead.  And I'm still here able to fight."

Along with her work to reform Iowa's HIV Criminalization law, Tami is also preparing for the day on the hill, February 11th, as well as a national conference in June at Grinnell College.

For More Information:

CHAIN (Community HIV and Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Community-HIV-and-Hepatitis-Advocates-of-Iowa-Network/210410904866

PITCH- Positive Iowans Taking Charge

http://www.pitchiowa.com/

Iowa Department of Public Health – Bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis

https://www.idph.state.ia.us/HivStdHep/HIV-AIDS.aspx?prog=Hiv&pg=HivHome

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