Lead­ing the cheer


Style Magazine - - Feature - BY CLARE STANDFAST

“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.”

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