August 7, 2013 – A Georgetown alumna who contracted the HIV virus shortly after she was born has dedicated her life to public health advocacy and social justice.
Nina Martinez (C’05) lives in Atlanta and is currently “writing the book on how long life can be” for a person who is HIV-positive.
The mathematics major says she began her advocacy work while studying at Georgetown.
“My roots for social justice started at Georgetown and stayed through thereafter, either speaking at colleges and universities or through my public health work,” she said. “That’s something I’ve been proud of.”
During her time at Georgetown, Martinez volunteered for medical research studies at the National Institutes of Health and participated in the Georgetown University AIDS Coalition, a student group through the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ).
The group attempts to demystify HIV and AIDS while lending support to people living with the disease in Washington, D.C.
Martinez contracted the HIV virus from a blood transfusion shortly after being born 12 weeks prematurely with her twin sister, Marie, in California.
Although both sisters needed transfusions after becoming anemic from multiple tests, only Nina Martinez contracted HIV.
Undiagnosed until Age 8
“It would be discovered later that I was the only one that contracted HIV from the transfusions,” said Martinez, who received blood from a hospital in San Francisco while her sister remained in San Jose.
Martinez went undiagnosed until she was 8 years old in 1991 when she was about to undergo surgery to correct a “muscle imbalance” in her eyes.
She says that the hospital didn’t usually test patients under 15 for HIV, but a paperwork mix-up allowed her to be tested and ultimately saved her life.
Comfortable in Own Skin
“If I had not had that test, I would probably be like every other young person thinking, ‘Well I don’t look like I have HIV,’” said Martinez, who celebrated her 30th birthday in June. “I’m an example of what screening can do.”
Martinez, who as a child believed she was related to the only other HIV-positive person she knew existed, including star basketball player Magic Johnson, says she wasn’t treated differently by peers as long as she appeared comfortable in her own skin.
“I can’t say that I encountered a lot of misconceptions or stigma because I didn’t learn to make it something that I was ashamed of, and I didn’t learn it was something that I should hide,” she said. “I’ve always been very open, and I think that makes it easier for other people to understand it as well as accept it.”