Mornings are busy at the Castrejana household. With three children to cart to school before she heads to work, Janeli Castrejana has gotten good at multi-tasking. The 30-year-old San Antonian always dreamed of becoming a mother. A health crisis in her early 20s could have robbed her of the joy of having a family.
Janeli contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS when she was only 21. “I was devastated,” she said. “I thought my life was over. I thought I was going to die.” She had known her husband Jacob was HIV positive, but he was on treatment and she thought if they took precautions, she would be fine. “I was angry. I was sad. This wasn’t the plan.”
The diagnosis three months after her wedding changed Janeli’s life dramatically. She and her new husband talked about adopting. Then, the couple considered breaking up. Finally, Janeli said, she realized “We are not HIV. We are Jake and Janeli.” She sought help from an infectious disease specialist and started on medications.
Thanks to compassionate caregivers and breakthroughs in scientific research, the HIV virus is undetectable in her system. Janeli is not cured, but she controls her disease with medications.
When it came time to start a family, Janeli became a parent without transmitting the virus. While the six pills a day she took to protect her unborn children was a difficult regimen for her, Janeli and her husband are now proud parents of sons Octavius (age 6), Maximus (age 5), and daughter Ezri (age 4).
“It feels like a miracle,” Janeli added.
Today, Janeli and Jacob choose to speak public about their shared HIV-positive status. Janeli has blogged about her experiences as an HIV-positive pregnant woman. The couple produces a podcast called The Positive Vida, which they describe as conversations for people who live with HIV and those who love them. They have both worked for AIDS service groups in San Antonio.
The AIDS epidemic has killed 35 million people since it began in the 1980s. More than 40 million people in the world are infected with HIV today.
Texas Biomedical Research Institute is home to several teams of HIV/AIDS researchers who are making great strides in the search for an effective vaccine against the disease and new ways to treat people who are infected. Our scientists are working with groundbreaking, visionary experts around the world to tackle this serious health issue.
The treatment of HIV/AIDS patients has come a long way since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 40 years ago. What used to be a virtual death sentence can now be treated as a chronic, controllable infection. More answers, though, are needed.
Jacob and Janeli Castrejana embrace the present as the dream they never thought they’d see fulfilled. “There is no way I could have my children and be where I am today without science,” Janeli said. “I am a huge advocate of biomedical research. It’s hard work. It’s not always pretty work. But it’s what we need as a community and what we need as a world.”
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