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Individual Success Story:  Lisa

"PRC has been a lifesaver for me," says Lisa, who came to Positive Resource Center (PRC) ten years ago needing benefits counseling when her Social Security benefits came up for review. For many years, HIV and a serious heart condition had served as a barrier to employment. She dreamed of returning to work, but was unable to maintain a regular job.

Lisa had previously worked in law enforcement and the court system to support herself and her three children. PRC's team of attorneys helped Lisa build the case for her continuing disability review, compiling important medical and legal documents to maintain her financial benefits and health insurance.

Your Heart is Failing

Then, late in 2007, Lisa received devastating news that her heart was failing. Making matters worse, the doctor warned her that she wouldn't find a hospital willing to put an HIV-positive person on the transplant list. Lisa refused to accept this death sentence and began her own research. She eventually found a medical journal article about a case similar to hers written by two physicians at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She contacted the article's authors and met with a cardiologist at UCSF, who decided to take a chance on her. In February 2008, Lisa became the first HIV-positive patient at UCSF to receive a heart transplant, setting a new standard of care for those with HIV and heart problems.

The transplant gave Lisa a new lease on life. She began to seriously contemplate returning to work. "A life-altering experience like that makes you reevaluate your goals and become deliberate about what you want," she says. With her health on an upswing and her youngest beginning high school, she knew that the time was right to take stock of her career prospects. So she sought out PRC's services once more.

New Heart, New Resolve

The resources and support she needed were available at PRC. Lisa received a comprehensive vocational evaluation, attended résumé workshops and computer training courses, and began to clarify her career goals. Lisa determined that the next step for her would be law school, with the goal of eventually providing legal services to low-income and underserved communities.

To help her realize her dream, PRC linked Lisa with Louis Dunn, a member of PRC's Employment Services Advisory Board and a former vocational rehabilitation counselor at the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Louis volunteered to help Lisa with the often-complicated DOR application process. With help from Louis and PRC, Lisa soon was approved for services.

However, Lisa's counselor at the DOR was unsure whether Lisa's education plan was appropriate, questioning her life expectancy and whether her health was up to the stresses of law school. But Lisa knew she could handle it. "What's more stressful?  Raising three children on Social Security," asks Lisa, "or three years of law school?"  So Lisa spoke to her doctors, who confirmed that she was physically and mentally strong enough to attend law school.

Continuing Support

Unsure of what to do next, Lisa turned to PRC for emotional support. Her counselor encouraged her to continue, attending meetings with Lisa and her DOR counselor and advocating on her behalf. "Joe reminded me constantly that I had both the capacity and the drive to be successful in law school," says Lisa. "He stepped up for me many times, making sure I was on track with what was expected of me."

Shortly afterward, Lisa received a phone call from her DOR counselor. Expecting bad news, she was thrilled to hear "congratulations."  Having her education plan approved meant that she was closer to her goal of becoming an attorney. The DOR would subsidize many of her education expenses. Lisa then began researching LSAT classes and the law school admissions process with excitement and optimism.