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Q & A

SYLVIA LA BONTE: Giving Life Lessons

January 13, 1991|SUSAN KING

On Friday, Joseph Benti hosts a special edition of KCET's Emmy-winning series "By the Year 2000." Entitled "TeenAIDS: Sons and Daughters," the one-hour special focuses on the deadly reality of AIDS and teen-agers' sexual behavior.

"TeenAIDS" will feature an in-studio panel of school administrators, educators, AIDS experts and profile Sylvia La Bonte, 25, who was infected with the HIV virus six years ago. The mother of a 5-year-old son, Chad, the Ventura County resident has spent the past two years educating high school and college students on AIDS awareness and prevention.

La Bonte talked to Susan King about AIDS and living with HIV.

How old were you when you were infected?

I was 19 when I was infected. I spent a weekend with a man I had been friends with for a long time. I was living on my own and I had a little apartment on the beach.

I just got together with this man and it kind of went off the handle for the weekend. I didn't know he was a bisexual. He was older and we spent a weekend on the sailboat. It was very romantic. The man and I went back to being friends and then he died three years later. I still didn't know he was a bisexual. I became a Christian and really quit having sex and began hearing more and more about AIDS.

I found out I was HIV positive about 21/2 years ago. I donated blood and I got a letter to see a doctor right away. That was in the summer of 1988 and then my son had to be tested and he was negative.

You never felt sick?

No, not at. I am still totally healthy. It took me about a year of trying to deal with it and tracking back to old boyfriends. I was tracking back and they all tested negative. I got back to this man and one of his friends told me, "You knew he was a bisexual, didn't you?"' It was like "Whoa!"

So I assumed that is where I had gotten it from because he died of a lung disease. So after about a year dealing with the disease, I started speaking in high schools and colleges. I am looking forward to the show coming out because I think I will be asked to speak on a lot of different things.

What medication are you on?

I am on AZT. I have had side effects from it. They have tapered off. Nausea is the only thing left and I think it's because I take so much stuff. I started making sure I get plenty of sleep, exercise a lot and eat healthy.

Does your son know of your illness?

He knows I have a serious disease and that's why I go to doctors and take medications. And he understands he is to stay away from my blood.

You say you are a born-again Christian. Have your religious convictions helped?

Definitely. When it gets too much to deal with, I am able to give it up to the Lord because it's not something I can handle on my own.

Are you close with your family?

Yes. My family and friends have stood by me.

I go to a Christian psychologist and to a support group for people who are infected with the disease. I am the youngest one in my group and it's a very mixed group. Right now, there are only two homosexuals. It's heterosexuals and maybe some past i.v. drug users.

I do go to a Christian support group in Los Angeles. I have to travel that far to find one. There are none in Ventura County, but I am educating churches right now here. One of the churches out here is going to be starting one. Ventura County is just realizing it is happening.

How did you get involved in educating groups?

I went and told my family I really think that the best thing I could do is to educate other people and that I was thinking about going public.

I got mixed, but mostly positive, reactions from my friends and family.

Definitely mostly positive. So I went through a Red Cross training program and came on their speakers' board. I am known in Ventura County, but anyone who is involved in AIDS can contact me through the Red Cross.

What do you talk about when you go to high schools?

For a high school group I would do basic AIDS education. I would be talking to them at this point in their lives that it's not a forever thing, but they should not be having sex because of the consequences. I definitely try to push abstinence.

The audience lets you know what they want to hear. If it's continuation high school where you know they are doing drugs or having sex, I have to talk about condoms and not sharing needles or stuff.

I definitely blow peoples' minds. I am an attractive woman and I am a woman with a child. I am not a prostitute or an i.v. drug user.

You can see the fear and the shock. The men are thinking, "If I met her I would have sex with her." The women are thinking, "It could happen to me also." It's a very powerful tool. I wish I had the opportunity to speak to every person between the ages of 10 and 15. I would love to educate everybody.

I get really a positive response when I go and speak. They come up to me and they will either shake my hand or hug me. I get nice letters. It has really made a lot of difference in living with the disease. It's important for people to realize what is really happening and stop ignoring it. If (only) I would have known when I was 19 years old that having sex this one time meant if I ever get married I could infect my husband or I could die at any time.

I can't go and have another child. I can't just go and have a baby. That's so hard to deal with. People should stop looking at day-to-day things and realize that every action they do affects their future.

"By the Year 2000: TeenAIDS: Sons and Daughters" airs Friday at 9 p.m. on KCET.

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