HIV, STI and AIDS conversation sparks on campus

Sarah Muller

One woman’s journey shows that HIV can happen to anyone if they aren’t careful, regardless of the circumstances.

Anne Lengeman, guest speaker at Iowa State, was in a relationship with a man who didn’t know he was ill with AIDS. She met him while she was a waitress at a truck stop in Des Moines while he drove trucks. While she appreciated her job, her desire for money and drugs overcame her career.

Lengeman was more intrigued with the big-rig lifestyle and decided to join for three years.

“I got anything I wanted — clothes, money and drugs,” Lengeman said. “He had me hooked.”

Supplied with crack cocaine, she further explained that she had fallen in love with the drug and began testing others, including heroin.

After two and a half years of being away from Iowa, her boredom got the best of her and she returned. However, that didn’t stop Lengeman from letting her life be consumed with drugs, prostitution, jail and near-death experiences.

Living under the same roof as her mother and her step-father irritated Lengeman, who found herself back in Des Moines, but this time on the streets.

“[I was] with my one true love, crack cocaine, not taking required medication for the HIV,” Lengeman said.

As her illness took over, she explained that death was on her back. Rejecting her health and injecting drugs into her veins landed her in jail on more than one occasion. As Lengeman sat, she contemplated.

“I didn’t one day decide when I grow up, I want to become a drug addict with HIV [and] AIDS,” Lengeman said. “I want to become successful in some ways.”

Returning to her mother’s house, Lengeman searched for jobs. When they didn’t work out, she found herself in back in Des Moines. Once again, she was consumed with her drug addiction and didn’t take her necessary medicine, putting her in the hospital and jail.

This is when pneumonia struck as her first near-death experience.

Ignoring the needs of her health, she continued to court the drug of her choice. After being fooled into thinking she had received some high-quality cocaine, which was laced with rat poison, Lengeman was facing death once again.

After sitting in her jail cell for four months, Lengeman decided it was enough.

“It was eating at people who loved me and support[ed] me but [didn’t] support my habit,” Lengeman said.

Now, 10 years later, she is clean, taking her required medication and spending quality time with her best friend — her mother.

“My mom is now my addiction,” Lengeman said. “She keeps me on my regular schedule of taking medications.”

With cocaine out of her mind and her heart, she is a 45-year-old woman living with HIV and AIDS. However, Lengeman has been undetectable for four years, meaning that lab tests could not detect the virus in her blood. However, she still has the HIV virus. 

Lengeman dreams of someday opening up her own business to bake cakes, cupcakes, cookies and candies or open up a large home for young people who are going down a path like she did.

“I am hoping that someday there is a chance that I am a survivor of this disease,” Lengeman said. “I dream to become a success in the medical books.”

Lengeman wanted to speak to a high school crowd about her experiences, but some believed it was too young of a group, so she began speaking at universities, including Iowa State.

One class gave her a large poster as a thank you for sharing her story and inspiring them.

“In the beginning I was cryinging a lot [while giving speeches],” Lengeman said. “But then when I get into it more, there won’t be no tears. I don’t do the tears for the people who feel sorry for me because that I don’t want.”

She now describes her day as “bright and cheery.”

“Before I go to bed at night, I always thank God for giving me that day,” Lengeman said. “Then when I wake up in the morning, I thank God for giving me another day.”

While she still gets her mood swings from time to time, she does not take it out on the people she cares about. She has surrounded herself with those who are on the “straight and narrow path.”

“I try to stay away from old playmates and playgrounds,” Lengeman said. “That keeps me happy.”

As a mom, best friend, roommate and personal driver, Lengeman’s mother explains her love was unconditional when found out about Lengeman’s HIV.

“It didn’t really hurt me,” said her mother, Carolyn. “It was just something you have to deal with. Just like anything in life.”

Lengeman believes people need to be aware of the consequences if they do not ask the right questions.

Diana Baltimore, lecturer in human development and family studies, has worked with a variety of people, from women with unexpected pregnancies to STI-prevention education, including working with Lengeman to help share her story.

“I encourage all my students to go out and talk about it everyday,” Baltimore said.

She not only encourages individuals to get tested but maintain an open conversation when having a sexual relationship with someone.

“First, I would say [partners] should talk about it before they have intercourse,” Baltimore said. “Once a person knows he or she is positive, they should go back and tell all of their prior partners.”

Baltimore understands that most people go to the Internet in search of answers, however she advises that people look for reputable sources.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] can be overwhelming because it’s so broad, but they have a lot of really great resources so that people can determine whether or not they have the symptoms,” Baltimore said. “And that does not mean Wikipedia.”

Statistics may be reported to the state, however Baltimore explained that there is no way to find out an exact number or percentage of students on Iowa State’s campus who have had an STI due to students using outside sources.

“You could go to any of the testing sites,” Baltimore said. “You could live in Ames or Story County and go home to a testing site, and it wouldn’t come back to being a campus-related statistic.”

According to the CDC’s website, 50,000 people get infected with HIV every year. By the end of 2012, 1.2 million people were living with HIV in the United States. Of those 1.2 million, 12.8 percent did not know they were infected.

Some STIs cannot be cured, and most people are asymptomatic, or not show symptoms, but the illness is still in their system.

“Getting tested, knowing your partners and having open communication always is key,” Baltimore said.