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Wrong Donna Firebaugh?

Donna Firebaugh

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Background Information

Employment History


Washington Heights Grace Brethren Church

Street Outreach Worker

AIDS Council


Hollins Road Baptist Church

Web References

Living with the shadow

www.roanoke.com [cached]

Open , honest and frightened , Alvin and Donna share what they have learned from battling HIV.

Both struggled to deal with the diagnosis , Alvin in 1991 and Donna in 1988.
Alvin walked to the Wasena Bridge with the idea of throwing himself off , and Donna turned to crack cocaine.
Donna had been a basketball and track stand-out at JMU and at Northside High School in Roanoke County , where she still holds the record in shot put.She was living the life of a young barfly , she says , waitressing and bartending , driving a Trans Am.She helped her dad with his rental-property business on the side , working on houses and mowing yards.
She still looks back on those years and wonders : If she'd been able to land a job using her sociology degree , would she have stabilized.Would she now be HIV-free.
I've never really been promiscuous.I mean , it's kinda hard to date when you're six-feet-one..
Shortly after the HIV diagnosis , she learned she was pregnant , too.Her daughter , Alysisa now 12 , does not have the virus ; nor does her son , Marcus , 8. Donna was married once , to Alysisa's father , for two years.But making him wear a condom - and submit to frequent HIV testing at the health department - put too much strain on the marriage.
When she became pregnant with her son - after another night of being talked out of using a condom , she says - she was so distraught she turned to crack.Depressed and on drugs and fearing for her baby's health , she finally hit bottom and called her pastor at Hollins Road Baptist Church.That's when I got saved , she says.
Her son weighed a healthy 11 pounds at birth - and he tested negative for HIV.
That was the beginning of the change of my life , Donna says.
She joined support groups for drug users and people living with HIV.She even wrote a health newsletter for women with HIV and for a time worked as a street outreach worker for the AIDS Council.
Although her depression caused one drug relapse , she's been clean for the past 18 months and attends three Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week.On disability since 1996 , she lives on slightly more than $600 a month , including the support she receives for one child.And she still helps her dad with odd jobs , living rent-free in his Northeast Roanoke house in exchange for fixing it up.It's a quiet spot on a dead-end street with a small vegetable plot out back and a few flowers in front.
Her family has been supportive , Donna says , as has her church.When her mother died a year ago , Donna took her seat as organist for Washington Heights Grace Brethren Church , playing every Sunday morning.
She doesn't hide her HIV status the way most do.The guys she plays pick-up basketball with at Washington Park know , she says.So do acquaintances from Fallon Park pool , where she swims with her kids.She considers openness critical to her healing.
Years ago , she tried to hide her illness.But word spread anyway , and someone once threw a brick through her window and flattened her tires.
One guy threatened to kill me after we kissed once.He said , 'You didn't tell me you had AIDS.'.
It's easier , she says , to be open with everyone.And to remain celibate.

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