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Former Playboy Playmate with HIV makes positive impact
 
 
  Speaker wants to save others 16 years after her diagnosis
 
By CHANDRA HARRIS
Knoxville News-Sentinal
September 22, 2005
 
"She is big! Look at her muscles, man," were the murmurings from the crowd Wednesday night as an HIV-positive Playboy Playmate made her way towards the stage at the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center Auditorium.
 
With a fitted T-shirt that showcased her biceps, Rebekka Armstrong is not the poster child of what AIDS looked like in the 1980s epidemic - white, male and gay.
 
The 38-year-old told an audience of dozens that her accumulation of muscle mass has only been recent and that there was a time "when I only weighed 98 pounds."
 
The University of Tennessee Women's Coordinating Council sponsored Armstrong's campus appearance, which she titled "Exposed: An HIV+ Playmate Talks About Her Life."
 
At 18 she became a Playboy Playmate. At 22 she was HIV-positive, not from leading a wild life in Hollywood during her years of stardom but from a one- night stand, she believes at 16.
 
"It only takes one time," she said.
 
The one time that Armstrong was looking for someone to listen to her came in the arms of a college boy who "I barely even knew," she said.
 
It all started because "I had sex that I didn't want to have in the first place," Armstrong said, referring to a high school boyfriend who impregnated her.
 
"I got pregnant and I decided to have an abortion after weighing all of my options," she said.
 
After Armstrong had the abortion she said her high school boyfriend "ignored all my phone calls and didn't want to spend any time with me."
 
"But this boy at the college party listened to my story and how my boyfriend was treating me," Armstrong said.
 
"I had low self-esteem. I wanted to feel special and pretty," she said. "I wanted to be loved, cared for and wanted."
 
That desire of wanting someone else "to validate me" is what brought a phone call Armstrong said she would never forget.
 
"When my doctor told me I was positive, I thought she was saying that I was pregnant," she said.
 
"It took awhile for it to sink in that I was HIV-positive."
 
When the news did sink in, Armstrong decided to attempt suicide after taking medications for the virus that she thought were failing and "only made me sicker."
 
"When I wasn't taking the medication, I was drinking and doing drugs because I felt like I was going to go out with a bang," she said.
 
After taking drugs and dosing them down with alcohol, the California native ran a borrowed car into a wall.
 
Armstrong said she spent 36 hours in a coma, and the whole time she was wishing "they (hospital staff) would just let me die."
 
She lived and found her way to a seminar dedicated to women infected or affected by AIDS.
 
Armstrong, who travels widely telling her story, said it was at that two-day conference that she found the hope and will to not only live but to make a difference by saving someone else's life by sharing her experience.
 
"I want to give you the information that I didn't get," said Armstrong, who told the audience her disease presently is "undetectable."
 
"You only have one life, and I want to try and save it."
 
Chandra Harris may be reached at 865-342-6425.
 
 
 
 
 
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