by Khopotso Bodibe
How does a 23 year-old Theology student admit to his fiancé and his church that he is HIV positive? That was Reverend Christo Greyling’s dilemma in 1987 when he was diagnosed with HIV. Health-e News Service spoke with him about how he’s lived with HIV all this time. This is the first of two parts of Rev. Greyling’s story.
KHOPOTSO: “I was abstinent all my life before I knew I was HIV positive,” says the now 38 year-old Rev. Christo Greyling, a former Dutch Reformed minister, who is now a World Vision advisor for Africa, on HIV/AIDS. World Vision is a Christian development organisation with a focus on children infected and affected by the epidemic.
REV. CHRISTO GREYLING: I heard I was HIV positive in 1987 while I was still a student in Theological Seminary. That was quite a shock. I, in fact, only found out last year that I got infected in ’84 with an eye operation. I’m haemophiliac, which basically means I don’t have any clotting in my blood and therefore, when I have internal bleeds in joints or in muscles, I have to infuse myself, intravenously, with a concentrate of other people’s blood. And in the early ‘80s times there were no testing yet available and I received some US/American factor during that operation. And it was just unfortunate that I got infected during that time.
KHOPOTSO: Haemophilia, if you can tell us about the condition, how it actually afflicts one, the dangers of not having blood that clots?
REV. CHRISTO GREYLING: Haemophilia is a blue blood disease. They say it comes, originally, from Queen Victoria. I don’t know how true that is. But we know that she was the first person who had haemophiliac children, as well as the Czar from Russia… Haemophilia is a disease, which causes severe pain in joints, as when you twist an ankle and it starts to swell up. In my case it doesn’t heal by itself. It just becomes worse and worse. It’s extremely painful, but you also might lose the use of joints. At this stage, haemophiliacs are much easier treated now than we were when we were small children. Now it’s easy, you just inject yourself with the concentrate of the factor that is absent in my blood and you recover within a day or two. Previously, we had to lie in hospital for a week receiving plasma. And that caused a lot of time away from school, or time away from home, and also caused a lot of damage to the joints.
KHOPOTSO: Is it genetic?
REV. CHRISTO GREYLING: Yes, haemophilia is a genetic disease. It is passed on from the mother to the son. So, daughters don’t get to be haemophiliacs. They are the carriers of haemophilia. It’s very much similar to colour blindness, which is also transmitted from the women as the carriers to the men as the people who suffer from that.
So, if I would have a daughter my daughter will be a carrier. She will not suffer from haemophilia herself. But her sons will possibly have a 50/50 chance of being haemophiliacs.
KHOPOTSO: How old were you when you discovered that you’re HIV positive?
REV. CHRISTO GREYLING: I was young. At that stage I was 23 years old. I was in love. I had a wonderful girlfriend. And so, HIV came as a huge surprise. It came as a shock. It really challenged me to suddenly start to think ‘what now? Who will ever want a Reverend being HIV positive and having AIDS?’ At that stage the stigma was even greater than now. And HIV was purely associated with homosexuality, with sex, with promiscuity. And I was really scared that people will not be willing to be near me.
KHOPOTSO: It was six months before his wedding day that Rev. Greyling’s doctor told him that he was HIV positive. Panic set in and he immediately wanted to cancel his marriage plans.
REV. CHRISTO GREYLING: My girlfriend at the time was Liesl, and we were dating for about six months. And the big question then was ‘should we continue with this relationship or end it?’ I felt I cannot expect her to continue having to be married, possibly, to a person with AIDS; having that stigma around you; never being able to have children; I will become ill and she’ll have to care for me; and she’ll be a widow within a few years. So, I just felt, ‘stop it.’ She said, ‘no I loved you before you became HIV positive and the fact that you’ve got a virus does not change the love I have for you. So, I’m gonna marry you, anyway.’ So, I’m thankful for that. After 16 years we are still together and she’s still negative, which proves to you it can be done. HIV is preventable. We got married six months later, in April 1988.
In the next Living with AIDS feature, Reverend Christo Greyling talks
about life with HIV, how it affects his wife and their relationship
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