I was walking by one of our exam rooms in our outpatient HIV clinic today when a clear voice said to me, “Hey, how you doin?” with a unique New Jersey accent.

A Jersey accent gets my attention because I’m in Birmingham for one, and two, my wife lived in New Jersey for awhile growing up and I love the accent that drops the “g” from “doing.”

I stopped, turned around and went through the open door to see a beautiful, healthy, 48 year old woman sitting there in the corner by the window with the sunlight reflecting on her hair as she waited for her doctor. Her smile was infectious, radiating from a bubbling, clear, deep well within her soul.

I sat down and asked her the same question. She said, “I am alive, I am living, and I’m expecting two more grand babies in the next few months, what could be better than that?”

“Can you tell me more about this smile I see on your face?” curious about her secret.

She said, “Well, I came down here from New Jersey in 1996 to die. I told all my children goodbye before I left because I was sure my days were numbered and I would never see them again. That was hard. I was coming home so that my Mamma could take care of me until I took my last breath. My Mamma called Hospice and they said even though she has only 4 T-Cells and weighs 100 lbs. she needs to go to The 1917 Clinic at UAB.”

“I rolled in here in my wheelchair and met with Dr. Michael Saag (founder of the clinic and now head of Infectious Diseases at UAB, pictured above) on that day and his sense of humor made me start laughing. He gave me hope. It was just his natural way of being. Today, I have over 700 T-Cells and I have my life back.” Those of us who know Mike Saag are not surprised by the comments.

She added, “I went home from that visit and I kept laughing, I kept smiling. I don’t know what it was or what he said, but I caught it.”

She went on to tell me several stories of how thankful she was to God for all that God has given her. Her faith was certainly a central part of her life. I asked her if she was connected to a church, and she said gently, “Nope, just God.”

And then I did something I don’t think I have ever done with a patient. I, the Chaplain, asked her if she would pray FOR ME. Now. Right here. I wanted some of what she had.

She didn’t hesitate as she reached out and grabbed my hands and started praying. When I walked out of the room, I was smiling. I had hope. I was infected in an HIV Clinic.

Of course Dr. Saag gave her medicine in 1996, but maybe more importantly he gave her hope and joy. And now, I have been infected. I got it bad. Which is good.

So I called Dr. Saag on his cell phone today to tell him this story. “Wow, I guess this is why we do what we do isn’t it?” he said. “Yep, it sure is,” I responded, smiling.

I wonder who will catch it next?