Like all new moms, Angela beams when she talks about her beautiful 11month-old daughter.
Within moments of the News sitting down in the 28-year-old mom's Steveston living room, little Emma (name changed) stretches out her arms to be picked up.
What makes this scene even more precious is that Emma was born healthy; despite the fact Angela (not her real name) has HIV and Hepatitis C.
Angela's story is a sad one but she agreed to talk to the News to help the Heart of Richmond AIDS Society raise much-needed funds during its Heart & Soul 2011 fundraising dinner/show on Saturday, Oct. 22.
Angela's story is all too common.
Her father was a drug addict, who left the family when Angela was a year and a half.
Angela said that from the age of six until she ran away from home at 14, her older brother repeatedly raped her.
"I never told my mom because my brother told me he would burn me alive," she said. "I believed him."
To escape the horrors, Angela turned to drugs. Then, as the cycle goes, she turned to prostitution to feed her addiction to crystal meth, ecstasy and acid.
She worked the Downtown Eastside streets from the age of 15 until she was 24.
"When I was underaged, I made so much money, sometimes as much as $2,000 a night, because older men wanted young girls," she said, almost matterof-factly.
She believes she either contracted HIV through sharing a needle or through sex with any number of her Johns who paid extra not to use a condom.
"It's probably through sex because I only shared a needle once," said Angela. "Men would pay me between $20 to $200 extra to not use a condom."
Three weeks after her 18th birthday, Angela learned she was HIV positive. Extreme exhaustion was her first key that something wasn't right.
"A few weeks later I also found out I
had hepatitis C as well," she added. "By then, I didn't care about my life."
Meanwhile, in an attempt to get Angela clean and off the streets, a friend offered to help the then-23-year-old escape the temptations of the Downtown Eastside by offering a place to stay in Richmond.
"It took me years to get clean . the addiction to drugs is so powerful you don't care about anything," Angela said.
She was soon introduced to the Heart of Richmond AIDS Society.
"I've been going there for four years and it has been a lifeline for me, everyone there is so awesome," she added.
The young mother, who has been clean for more than a year and a half, attends a weekly support group at Heart of Richmond AIDS Society.
"It really helps to talk to other people who have HIV and AIDS," Angela said. "For my daughter's sake, I am learning to be strong . I don't want her to be judged because of me."
Meanwhile, Angela knows her HIV can turn into AIDS, but she hopes that fate will favour her, with her cocktail of drugs, including five antiviral pills.
"I suffer from severe pain and nausea from the HIV and the meds," Angela said.
"But my daughter gives me a great reason to keep going everyday."
Sarah White, outreach and education coordinator at Heart of Richmond AIDS Society, said the agency is open to anyone and offers a plethora of valuable information in its office and online (www.heartofrichmond.com).
For women like Angela, who find themselves pregnant or for those who have HIV and are contemplating getting pregnant, White said there is hope.
"If a woman has access to treatment, the chances of her passing HIV onto her baby is less than two per cent," said White.
"If a woman is not accessing a health care system for whatever reason, the chances of her passing HIV to her baby is about one in four.
"Women are more likely to pass HIV on to their babies through breastfeeding."
The Heart of Richmond AIDS Society hosts its ninth annual dinner dance fundraiser, Heart & Soul 2011, on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5: 45 p.m. at the Richmond Country Club. Tickets are $85 and include a buffet dinner, a floorshow featuring top female impersonators and DJ Hot Wax. For tickets, call 604-277-5137 or visit www.heartandsoulfundraiser.com.