Southern Alberta man living with HIV: ‘I figured it was a death sentence’

Lethbridge man living with HIV tells his story
WATCH ABOVE: Living with HIV is a nightmare for most; but for some, it's a reality. Not long ago, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence, but that's not the case anymore. Global’s Erik Mikkelsen introduces us to one Lethbridge man who has been living with HIV for more than 20 years.

Sixty-year-old Lethbridge resident Clifford Flett has lived with HIV for 20 years. He said it’s not as hard to manage now that he has support, but a lot has changed since he was first diagnosed.

“When I first found out I had HIV, I just started using more dope, drinking more,” said Flett. “I figured it was a death sentence back then.”

He is a recovering heroin addict and remembers searching for used needles to inject his fix, which was how he contracted the virus.

“You had to do what you had to do. You get one, you keep it. If somebody wants to use it, you charge them half their dope,” Flett said.

READ MORE: One in five HIV-positive Canadians don’t know they’re HIV-positive

With access to healthcare and proper medication, his life has improved.

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“I used to have to take nine pills a day, now I take three pills a day,” Fleet said.

“You just have to live healthy, just slow down instead of life in the fast lane, slow down and relax, man. Take care of yourself.”

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Cliff is a client at ARCHES, a non-profit organization helping people respond to and reduce the harm associated with HIV.

READ MORE: HIV cases rising in Alberta but many infected are unaware

Managing director Jill Manning said while treatment and prevention for the virus are advancing, the stigma around the illness still prevails.

“Some of the misconceptions that we hear are that by shaking someone’s hand, I’m going to somehow contract HIV. That’s not the case,” Manning said. “Any of the fluids that would potentially be considered infectious if you were HIV positive, are not your day-to-day fluids that you’re going to come into contact with.”

READ MORE: Canada’s limitations on gay blood donations ‘ridiculous’: HIV researchers

Cliff continues to live with his diagnosis day by day, while giving back to the staff at ARCHES who have helped him on his journey.

He also continues to work on a personal promise he left to his late mother.

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“My mom just knew me as a drunk and a drug addict all the time, in and out of jail. I told her, ‘that’s it, mom’ and I quit drinking,” Flett said.

“I can say that I never stuck a needle full of heroin in my arm again.”

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“Do you think she would be proud of you now?” Global’s Erik Mikkelsen asked.

“Oh yeah, really proud,” Flett answered.