When Johann Snyders started getting very ill, he never imagined he’d be diagnosed with HIV a few weeks later.
Johann, from KwaZulu Natal, was outgoing and free-spirited – but in May 2014, the life of the then 37-year-old would change forever.
“I first developed a bad case of fibromyalgia, which is a widespread muscle pain condition. This lasted for about four weeks,” the database manager (40) remembers.
“Then in June 2014, I started losing my eyesight almost overnight and became very ill.
“I was subsequently hospitalised and after a lot of painful medical procedures I was referred to a neurologist at Steve Biko Hospital.”
When doctors couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with him, they performed neurosyphilis and HIV tests.
“I had no cause to think that either would come out as positive as I have always been very careful and I also studied STDs,” he says.
A week later Johann went back to his doctor and received news that what change his life forever – his HIV test was positive.
“I was absolutely devastated. I crashed down into her office and just cried uncontrollably.
“I had no idea how I was going to live with this or how my friends and family would react to it,” says Johann.
But then he was introduced to a support group in Pretoria called Positively Alive, where he met several inspiring people who helped change his perspective of the virus.
“I met a few lovely couples where the one partner is HIV positive and the other is negative.
“These couples have been together for many years, and this just made me aware again on a renewed level that having the virus does not mean that you will automatically infect someone else,” he says.
Johann even entered SA’s Next Positive Hero in 2014, to show other HIV-positive people that having HIV is not a death sentence.
“As long as you make your health your first priority, maintain a healthy lifestyle and live life to the full, nothing and no one can bring you down,” he says.
“I wanted to live and I wanted to see other infected people live as well.”
Unfortunately, he had to withdraw from the competition when he moved to KwaZulu Natal, but this hasn’t stopped his crusade to encourage and support other people with HIV.
“First seek a second opinion. This will give you the clarity and peace of mind that no mistakes were made with your diagnosis.
“Secondly, it is imperative that you find a support group to help you deal with your diagnosis.
“Thirdly, your diagnosis is your own, if you do not want to disclose it to friends and family, you don’t need to,” he says.
Johann started an HIV support Facebook page for anyone with questions about the virus.