March 9, 1996 in Washington Voices

Woman Infected With Hiv On A Mission To Warn Others

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Coming to Evergreen Junior High this week closed another circle for Suzie Wyatt.

Born and raised in the Spokane Valley, Wyatt had sent her three kids through Evergreen. She’d been to the school hundreds of times.

This time was different.

Wyatt, 43, spoke to ninth-graders about her life as an HIV patient.

“I was knowingly infected with HIV by my ex-boyfriend,” she started, and she kept the roomful of teenagers church-quiet for 40 minutes.

Wyatt’s life has changed in many ways since 1991. She’s lost her job, her home, her car, “nearly my daughter,” and her trust.

That July, she met a good-looking man during an evening of darts. She fell in love.

That November, she learned he had fullblown AIDS. Hospitalized with pneumonia, he said he’d just gotten the news from his doctors, she told the ninth-graders.

Not until the following July, sitting at his mother’s kitchen table, did she learn that he’d known for years he was infected with HIV.

“My whole world fell apart.”

Wyatt is an experienced speaker now. She has talked at schools, conferences, camps and in prison. But Wednesday morning, when she reached that point in her story, she nearly lost her composure.

She had weathered the impact of HIV, her boyfriend’s drinking, his anger, the black eyes he gave her.

She could not stand his lie.

Wyatt’s own anger propelled her through two years in and out of court, pursuing criminal charges against the man. The case ended last summer when he was declared incompetent to stand trial.

Wyatt has a new life now, she told the teens.

She doesn’t have $1,800-a-month income, with full benefits and paid vacation. She gets a $450-a-month welfare check, food stamps and medical coupons.

She gave up her job in housekeeping at Valley Hospital and Medical Center. She works without pay at Spring Creek Pottery Shop in the Valley.

She lost her complacency and trust. “I took everything at face value.” She gained a sense that she must think of herself first.

“You know only you, 100 percent. Not your boyfriend, not your husband, not your pastor.”

After a couple of sessions at Evergreen, she needed a smoke break.

“I can’t smoke on school property?” she good-naturedly asked the assistant principal. “I have to go across the street with the kids? This is so embarrassing.”

Wyatt and her daughter, who just turned 17, share a cozy apartment off Sprague. Plants, books and pictures fight for space.

Like any mom, she worries about her children, even her grown sons who have left home. Like many of us, she hates pills. So, she’s stopped taking all her medication and feels better than she has since she first knew she was infected.

“It’s taken me two years to realize I’m not going to die right away.”

She says she once took the list of 137 illnesses that scientists say she could die from. “And I started bargaining with my higher power.” Not that one. Not that one. Maybe that one.

Wyatt has learned, she says, that people, even strangers, can be supportive. That her family is closer than ever before. She counts those things as blessings. As full circles.

“My grandma always told me, the more circles you have in your life, the more jewels you have in your crown,” she said with a smile.

, DataTimes MEMO: Saturday’s People is a regular Valley Voice feature profiling remarkable individuals in the Valley. If you know someone who would be a good profile subject, please call editor Mike Schmeltzer at 927-2170.

Saturday’s People is a regular Valley Voice feature profiling remarkable individuals in the Valley. If you know someone who would be a good profile subject, please call editor Mike Schmeltzer at 927-2170.

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