Tahoe woman battles HIV, drug addiction | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe woman battles HIV, drug addiction

Susan Wood
JIm Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Rodi Martindale, a former herion addict, tested HIV positive one year ago this month.

Rodi Martindale of South Lake Tahoe has much to celebrate this Christmas – despite being HIV positive.

The 37-year-old woman has a new lease on life as World AIDS Day rolls around today. This year, the day of action recognizes women and children with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a life-threatening disease that can lead to full-blown AIDS.

Though Martindale has endured a long road of tests and tribulations since being diagnosed a year ago, there are high points. Her T-cell count is up considerably. And she has a roof over her head, a 10-week-old kitten named Pork, a sober lifestyle and a support network consisting of friends, her brother, her doctor and the Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation.

Life has tested her on several fronts.

Martindale became HIV positive through intravenous drug use, while living on the streets of San Francisco in a deep state of grief. Her mother, sister and brother-in-law died in a 7-year period.

“July 20, 1997 – I’ll never forget that day.” Martindale rattled off the date of her mother’s death in Montana as if it were yesterday. “You don’t realize how bad it is until you lose a parent. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And (taking drugs) was how I coped with it.”

She dropped almost three-quarters of her weight, ending up at 115 pounds. She has since put some weight back on.

When she was diagnosed with HIV a year ago this month, from an Urban Health Study in San Francisco, Martindale said she fell apart.

She tried moving to Tahoe to get her life together in June, going off heroin cold turkey after five years of drug use.

“I made my first Thanksgiving dinner in five years over the weekend,” she said.

In addition, she will spend her first Christmas in an apartment after five years of homelessness. On Monday, she pulled out decorations on her bed in her tiny studio unit on Park Avenue. Most decorations belonged to her mother, whose mere indirect presence prompted her to get teary-eyed.

“This is a day-to-day thing,” she said.

This week, she’ll see a liver specialist. She takes no drugs for HIV symptoms at this point – only the anti-depressant, Prozac, for mental anguish.

She also has to deal with an advanced form of hepatitis C.

“I take vitamins,” she said.

Martindale is one of six women in Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation’s caseload. The Auburn-based organization provides bus passes, food vouchers and a rent subsidy worth $375.

HIV is the virus known to cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, which kills five people every minute around the globe.

Half of the 37.5 million people infected worldwide with HIV are women and children. Infections occur through intravenous drug use, sexual contact and the birth of a baby whose mother has the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that of the 42,156 new AIDS cases reported in the United States in 2000, 11,635 of them were associated with the sharing of contaminated syringes in IV drug use.

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