Gaston Toland is a 26-year-old male from Greensville, South Carolina who has been living with HIV for three years. He began his undergraduate studies in Media Studies, Journalism, and Broadcast at Paine College located in Augusta, GA in 2010, after deciding that this school would be the best fit for him. “I enjoyed that school. I loved it to be honest. I just feel like it was where I needed to be,” said Gaston about his years at Paine College.
On April 25, 2013, he received life-changing news. While attending PAC week at the school, which is held to symbolize HIV awareness, he tested positive for HIV.
“I personally knew about my status, I just wasn’t disclosing it to anyone,” he said.
In this case, Gaston actually knew the partner from whom he contracted it.
However, he was unaware of the fact that his former partner, who he had dated for a while, knew he was HIV positive. He made the decision to reveal who he got it from after he went downtown to an apartment complex to sign-up to join an HIV awareness campaign for travel opportunities and community service hours.
Here, he received comfort, support, and encouragement to be honest and save others from contracting HIV.
He later showed the test to his partner, who at the time worked at MCG Hospital. Gaston then went to Wal-Mart to get another test and the results were the same.
After taking this second test, he decided not to report it to the State of Georgia’s Health Department and remained silent for eight months. Over the course of these eight months, he developed a Staph Infection that grew in his neck, three centimeters away from his windpipe.
This is when Gaston finally decided to speak up.
“When I got the Staph Infection, it was kind of like God telling me I had to speak and I had to speak immediately or else I’m going to die.”
When he found out about the infection, he checked himself into MCG hospital where he remained for twelve hours, untreated and uninformed. It wasn’t until he attempted to discharge himself, that the nurse told him they had discovered spots on his lungs and there was a 98% chance that he had Cancer.
“I was finally able to discharge myself without her knowing when she received a phone call to go up to the front desk and that’s when I left,” Gatson said.
Gaston went home that night but the next morning, he found himself unable to move. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t sit up straight, I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
That’s when he called campus security to transport him to Universal Hospital where he was taken in immediately. Here, he met up with his parents and friends and received an outpour of love and support after telling them about his status.
He had surgery to remove the Staph Infection in his neck in November and returned back to living a pretty normal life.
Gaston went public on December 1, after typing and sending a Facebook status on his phone shortly before it cut off.
“I was in the car with my mom, brother, and nephew and I told my mom to pull over. I got out the car and fell to my knees and started thanking God for everything he has done for me,” he said.
When Gaston was finally able to check his Facebook page, contrary to the ridicule he thought he would get, he received more love, support, and understanding for his courage.
Although Gaston is publicly HIV positive, he still lives a normal life.
He works two jobs, takes his medication and enjoys typical everyday hobbies and activities such as reading, writing, blogging, exercising and working on his book.
He was motivated to begin a T-shirt line designed for anyone living with a disease. The goal was to get people to have a positive outlook on life while living with their disease.
“Your disease does not have you, you have the disease. No matter what anybody tells you, you’re healthy,” he said. The shirt reads “Walk, Race, Help, Save,” which are all symbolic. Walk as if this is your last day on this Earth. Race means that a disease has no color, it’s just here. Help; each one, reach one, teach one, means to help spread awareness and finally, Save a life.
Gaston looks to re-open his T-shirt line at the beginning of 2017.
As far as spreading awareness, educating people about HIV is important.
“Education will really open your eyes as to how you can contract the virus, how you can live with the virus. It’s all about education at the end of the day,” said Gaston.
In the United States, people living with Human Immunodeficiency (HIV) is ranked the highest among young homosexual and bisexual males, not including the ones who go undiagnosed and untreated. HIV is a virus that is spread through certain body fluids that attack the body’s immune system and CD4 cells. If it goes untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells in the body causing damage to the immune system. HIV can be transmitted by sexual contact, sharing needles to inject drugs, or from a mother to a baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. HIV is treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART), which involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day known an HIV regimen.
ART helps those with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
There is no cure for this virus.