Leading the cheer
CHEERLEADING TUTOR LYNDAL JOHNS HAS BEEN LIVING WITH HIV SINCE 1984 THE REPERCUSSIONS OF A TRAGIC MISTAKE DURING A BLOOD TRANSFUSION
“Heartland! Oh, I love it,” Lyndal Johns says, smiling. I can’t help but smile back in her warm, kind presence. She makes me feel at home.
“I can see myself living on the verandah, nothing pretentious, cooking cakes... with the horses.”
Lyndal fiddles with the sugar sachet, chatting about tv shows and her family.
To the naked eye, Lyndal is an average 71-year-old lady – a cheerleading teacher that has warmed the hearts of young and old for many, many years. She is firm on good manners and hard work, and the young girls in her classes adore her.
After receiving a contaminated plasma donation in 1984, Lyndal Johns was diagnosed as Hiv-positive, and a stigma-driven life was born. Now, Lyndal’s lifelong burden is being used for others’ gain – she is hoping to educate others about HIV.
“When I get well, I’m going to every school,” she nods, determined.
“Initially, I declined to do this story, but my friend showed me a story in the Chronicle about the increase of STDS and things in the area. It happened to mention two people that had contracted HIV. I looked at that and I thought, oh my goodness... it was like it was incidental. Oh, by the way, two people have HIV, and I think that was wrong.”
IN 1984, Lyndal Johns was rushed to the Blacktown District Hospital after suffering a suspected cerebral haemorrhage and was given what was thought to be a ‘life-saving’ transfusion.
At the time, strikes were affecting the New South Wales hospital services – coincidentally, Lyndal felt grateful to have the transfusion.
Eighteen months later, she received a phone call after donating blood to the Red Cross stating the problem – that the plasma she was given was contaminated and she was, indeed, Hiv-positive.
From here, Lyndal began her stigmatised life – people assumed she was a ‘lady of the night’, junkie, and more than anything, a danger to their health and safety.
People treated her like a leper – they targeted her children, pointed to her in cafes, she had rubbish thrown in her yard, and denied access to insurance – simply due to a doctor’s mistake.
Lyndal was the only person to contract HIV because doctors were on strike at the Blacktown District Hospital.
“The young doctor who gave it to me – I don’t blame him for one minute, he was just doing his job, I was just the consequence of the doctors going on strike. He was just doing his best,” Lyndal says.
“My son, when he used to walk home from school, the kids would spit on him, and the same with my daughter, she was taunted, and I thought going public was going to help people, but never did I think it would affect my children.
“With all due respect to the Government, I think they’re failing the Australian people – especially the young people – because when I tell people things like my story, what is the Government doing about it? There’s no ads. When the Grim Reaper (ad) was out, not even 200 people got it from blood transfusions, but that ad put so many people against HIV, so there was stigma from the word go. It’s not the disease that’s the worry, it’s the stigma. That’s what will ruin your life.”
According to the Australian Federation
‘‘ Nobody goes out to get sick – why can’t we just be more understanding? No matter what your illness, why can’t we just be kind?”
of AIDS Organisations, there were 25,313 Hiv-positive people in Australia at the end of 2015.
“I want the Australian public to take care. With every activity, there’s consequences.”
Take Sydney woman Abby Landy, who was diagnosed with HIV at 23-years-of-age after receiving a text message from a former lover saying, “I hope you remember me forever”.
The legal assistant broke out in cold sores and was physically ill. Her doctor told her the chances of her contracting HIV were ‘slim’ due to her being a heterosexual female in Australia.
She was sent home with some anti-virals for the cold sores.
Abby researched on her computer and discovered that the virus could be replicating in her blood.
She had a sexual health test and insisted on a HIV screen, and soon enough, she was diagnosed as Hiv-positive. Abby is now 28-years-old. “All young people are handsome, gorgeous, I don’t care who they are – it’s the age of ‘nothing’s going to happen to me’ – invincible – but they need to say, I care about myself, and the children I might have,” Lyndal says.
Lyndal was a single mum at the time she was diagnosed with HIV.
“People say to me, why don’t you get into another relationship? Oh, my goodness, I so would love to. Everybody needs to be cuddled, everybody needs to be loved, and at this age it would be so nice to have someone to love. There are a couple of people who I have been so attracted to, but what puts me right off, is if I told them, they would go.”
Entrenched in Lyndal’s hope is the need for people to take care.
“People have cancer, multiple sclerosis, all these other diseases, and everybody has a sympathetic or empathetic understanding – why can’t it be the same for HIV? Irrespective of how you got it. Okay, if you were a young man and you were involved with intravenous drugs, that was a mistake – it shouldn’t follow you for the rest of your life.
“For the gay and straight men and girls, they need to know that it’s here, and it’s prevalent, because there’s going to be such a stigma. I think it’s irresponsible of the Government and the medical profession for not getting out there, waving banners – be careful young ones. The older ones should know better but the younger ones think they’re invincible and they’ll try anything. But stop, because it’ll affect the rest of your life. Sure, you can take tablets and anti-virals, but the stigma is still there. Irrespective of whether you tell people or not, when you go to hospital, you most certainly feel it.”
Lyndal finds the biggest issue is the lack of understanding about HIV – and when people lack knowledge, ignorance and fear become abundant.
“You can’t get it from knowing me, from hugging me – I’ve had people put their arms up when I’ve gone to hug them – you can’t get it by kissing.”
Advocacy and understanding for HIV is at the top of Lyndal’s list, and that it shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
“I want the Government to start telling people that it’s still here, and I want to tell the young men and young women, be careful,” Lyndal said.
“Intimacy is lovely, but it’s not worth being affected for the rest of your life.
“I’ve lived this long because I love what I do and I have a purpose.” “Cheerleading keeps me going.” Lyndal Johns is an all-star. She has survived what many could not fathom, and is now prepared to help others.
In cohesion with advocacy, better health and awareness, her main message rings true:
“People just need to care more, especially about themselves. Be more selective when it comes to intimacy.”