Whitney Karby, a 39-year-old mother of six and grandmother of three, learned she had HIV in spring 2008. That’s when the Oklahoma City- County Health Department notified her that she had been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease.
“I was pregnant with my youngest daughter at the time,” said Karby.
“I had no idea what to expect. I had never had an STD, but I really wasn’t expecting them to say HIV.”
She and her then-husband were both infected. Karby began taking medication provided by the Infectious Disease Institute, but didn’t stay on it long because it made her sick. Still, the IDI was able to prevent the infection from passing to her unborn daughter. The virus progressed.
In December 2011, Karby was in an emergency room when she learned she had full-blown AIDS. An IDI clinic put her on new medications.
“They didn’t make me sick, so I stayed on them,” she said. “As of right now, the disease is undetectable in my system. The drugs have worked.”
Karby will share her story at Saturday’s 21st annual Red Tie Night. A fundraiser for the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund (OACF), the evening features cocktails, dinner, silent and live auctions, music and dancing.
Since 1991, OACF has helped people with HIV/AIDS and their families access a range of services and support. Red Tie Night has raised more than $7 million since its inception in 1992.
Karby is among those whom OACF helps with finances, training, education and support. For a mother living with HIV/AIDS, the world is suddenly more dangerous for her children, and support is desperately needed.
“My three youngest were too small to understand what was happening to me,” Karby said. “The three oldest knew, and they thought it was a death sentence. I did, too.”
Thanks to research and new medications, however, the disease is now more manageable than ever. Karby credits the OACF with saving her life. The nonprofit is helping her pursue a GED so that she might be able to help others in similar situations.