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Charlotte mom turns HIV into a mission to help others

” “ says

2013-12-01 15:41:16

Two things happened to DeVondia Roseborough as she lay in a Carolinas Medical Center bed in January 2004, battling an AIDS-related infection that threatened to take her life.

“The main thing I wanted to do was survive to see the Panthers in the Super Bowl,” says Roseborough, a self-described “huge, huge” fan of Charlotte’s NFL team.

After three weeks in a hospital, she recovered enough to return home for the Panthers’ only Super Bowl game – a narrow loss in February 2004 to New England.

Roseborough says she also heard God talk to her while she was in that hospital bed. “He told me to help others,” she says.

On this observance of World AIDS Day, Roseborough, 42, stands as an example of how the virus can be fought.

She has spent the past decade improving her health and trying to help other women avoid infection by reducing risky behavior. She has self-published two books, started a foundation and given talks everywhere from the Duke University campus to people’s living rooms.

Roseborough has raised two daughters and now attends classes full time at Johnson C. Smith University.

“I live life to the fullest,” she says. “Every day, I expect something good to happen.”

Falling ill

Roseborough thought she was helping others in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when she worked as a YWCA counselor. She already was a mother of two at the time, having packed a lot into the first three decades of her life – graduation from Garinger High in 1991; a brief stay in cosmetology school; giving birth to her first daughter and living in public housing; getting a Habitat for Humanity house and having a second daughter.

“Health officials came into the YWCA and talked to women about safe sex,” Roseborough says. “I was helping with those programs, yet I was doing the things they advised women not to do.”

She began feeling ill in 2001 and the symptoms were a lot worse in December 2003, when a test showed she was HIV-positive.

“I didn’t scream or curse,” she says. “I knew my mistakes had caught up with me.”

Within a month, she became ill and she says doctors told her she had AIDS.

Then came the turnaround, after the 23-day hospital stay, the Panthers’ game, and the message to help others.

Reaching out

First, she talked with her daughters – Camisha, now 21, and Georshyla, now 19. Both girls needed counseling, Roseborough says, and the younger girl asked her mother, “Are you going to die?”

“We all die,” Roseborough replied, adding that people must make the most of the time they have on earth. Then she set off to do that.

She began taking antiretroviral medication, six pills a day. Her T-cell count, which had dropped to 19 before her hospitalization (healthy people have a count of 700 to 1,000, and anything below 200 is considered AIDS), eventually rebounded to a healthy level.

By early 2005, her health was improved, and she began helping others. Her first speaking engagement was in Siler City.

“I merely told my story and told women what not to do,” she says.

Soon, she says, she was in demand. She launched her Rasberrirose Foundation, the title based on a nickname a boyfriend had given her. She focused on helping African-American women, saying statistics show they are 15 times more likely to become HIV-positive than white women.

“I saw a lot of those women with low self-esteem,” she says. “Women like that can make a bad decision, or no decision, when in a relationship with a man.”

A friend, Trina Sowell, says Roseborough also gives a positive message to those already HIV-positive. “She encourages them, ‘You take this and turn it around to something positive,’” Sowell says.

National recognition

Roseborough has appeared on CNN’s “Breakthrough Women” with Robin Meade and twice was a finalist in the “Best Community Leader” competition for the Hoodie Awards from national radio host Steve Harvey.

“The foundation is a one-person thing,” she says. “It’s me. But I have the energy for it. I feel great. My virus is at the undetectable level, and mentally I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my whole life.”

Jennifer Gaskins, a public relations official at Johnson C. Smith University, calls Roseborough “a great example of someone dedicated to helping others.”

Last year, Roseborough altered the format of her programs to emphasize what she calls “backyard conversations.” She meets with smaller groups in informal settings.

“African-American women can get together and have a good time,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for people to come together and talk.”

She would like her foundation to link with social service departments and other health agencies. She also would like to reach more women with low self-esteem.

If her beloved Panthers get to the Super Bowl, that would be nice, too.

“I still believe the best is yet to come,” she says.

View Original Article: charlotteobserver.com
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