I was born and raised in Culiacan, Mexico, the third of four siblings. I grew up in a very matriarchal family. I contracted hepatitis A when I was 7 years old, and though I made it through, I considered it a curse. I could not donate blood, and that always made me unhappy.
I moved to the United States when I was 22 years old to pursue graduate studies and, at 27, graduated from Louisiana State University with a Ph.D. in food science. I moved to the East Coast in 2001 to work at the Food and Drug Administration as a research scientist.
Over the years, I’ve been affected personally by HIV/AIDS. I have known people who contracted HIV, developed AIDS, and died. But I knew I had to take action after reading about a village devastated by HIV transmitted by a blood bank. The blood bank had pooled blood, collected red blood cells, and returned HIV-infected pooled serum. According to the article, the elders of the village ended up caring for the young, many of whom had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS and were themselves infected.
A week or so after reading the article, I saw an ad on a Metro train in Washington, DC, calling for volunteers in HIV vaccine research. I knew this was the way I should get involved. I think there is still a need for greater awareness, understanding, and education about HIV vaccine research. “I think a vaccine is the only solution to this crisis that affects us all.” I have now participated in a total of four Vaccine Research Center studies, and I am a very happy 39-year-old.