When women end long marriages and rejoin the dating world, there's a lot to worry about. Will it be hard to meet someone? Will dating be the same as it was years ago? When should I introduce a partner to my children? But the one factor many middle-aged women don't necessarily think about is the one that can be the most life-altering: sexually transmitted diseases.
These five women sharing the Oprah Show stage have a lot in common. They live in suburban America. They are mothers with successful careers. They also, unknowingly, shared a partner. Each woman, some of whom are in disguise, dated and slept with Philippe Padieu, a man they describe as handsome and charismatic. Unfortunately, he turned out to be very different from the man he claimed to be.
Diane, a 58-year-old martial arts teacher, was the first to meet Philippe. She had been married for 18 years and says when she reentered the dating world, it had changed dramatically. "It was very difficult to meet people, and I really don't do bars. My friends suggested that I use an online dating service," she says. "When I first started dating Philippe, I was head over heels. He was very charming. He made me feel like the only woman on the face of the earth."
Diane and Philippe quickly became serious and decided to move in together. When Philippe lost his job, Diane hired him as an instructor at her martial arts studio and started paying for most of his bills, including his cell phone and medical bills.
Diane says Philippe's money problems put a strain on their relationship. Eventually, he started pulling away so much that Diane suspected him of cheating. As it turned out, she was right. "I stopped by the [martial arts] school and I noticed that the private lesson room door was closed. He opened the door and he blocked the doorway, and that's when I slammed the door open and she was behind the door," Diane says. The last straw, she says, was catching him in a lie about being staying home sick. "Because I was paying for his cell phone, I checked his voice mail messages. There were not one but two voice mail messages from two different women, and I knew."
Diane broke up with Philippe when she discovered he was cheating. A few days later, she went to the gynecologist for a routine exam. Her doctor called within days to say that her pap smear showed precancerous cells due to a sexually transmitted disease. Knowing that he had cheated, Diane decided to let the other women know that they too might have an STD. As she went back through his phone records, Diane realized the cheating had been worse than she thought. "He was dating nine other women at the time he was dating me," she says.
One of the women Diane called was Susan. "We compared notes, and some of the time that she'd been seeing him, I had been seeing him," Susan says. "Then she said, 'I have an STD, and I am certain that Philippe gave this to me.'"
After talking to Diane, Susan went to her doctor and got news even worse than she had feared. "I received a phone call after my testing from my doctor and she said, 'You have HIV,'" Susan says.
The next time Diane and Susan spoke, Susan broke the news. "I got a test two days later," Diane says. "My ob-gyn called me and said, 'You're HIV positive.'"
Given the severity of the news, Susan and Diane decided they had to get ahold of the women Philippe had dated and stop him from infecting others. They filed a police report and launched their own full-scale investigation, starting with Philippe's cell phone records. "We contacted somewhere between 23 and 26 women," Diane says.
One of the women Diane found was Megan, who lived across the street from Philippe and dated him for more than two years. She says she had already suspected him of cheating and broken up with him by the time she got the phone call.
Megan learned she was also infected with HIV and joined the crusade to stop Philippe. "I mainly used the window to watch cars coming in and out and to watch what was going on at Philippe's house or which women were coming in and out," she says. Megan says she stopped women who were leaving Philippe's house to warn them that their lives could be at risk.
Together, the three women took down license plates and followed Philippe for at least six months.
After Susan and Diane filed the police report, the health department served Philippe with a cease and desist order demanding that he stop having unprotected sex. Shortly afterward, Diane remembered a day in 2005 that would serve as the key piece of evidence against her ex-boyfriend.
Diane had driven Philippe to the doctor because he hadn't been feeling well, she says. After he left the doctor's office, he told her all the tests he took—including one for HIV/AIDS—were negative. Once the report was filed against Philippe, his medical records confirmed that he knew he was HIV positive at that 2005 appointment, at the same time as he was having unprotected sex with unsuspecting women. That key piece of evidence led to his arrest.
Police charged Philippe with six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The weapon was his bodily fluid. Ten women, all HIV positive, were willing to testify against Philippe in open court. For the first time in Texas history, prosecutors hired a DNA expert to conduct genetic testing to determine the source of the common strain of HIV. It became clear that one sample was the source of most if not all of the women's diseases. On May 29, 2009, Philippe was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 22 years, when he is 76 years old.
It's hard to imagine how one man could trick nine women at once, but Sofia, one of the women Philippe infected, says she never imagined he was cheating. Like Diane, Sofia had just gotten out of a long marriage and was new to the dating scene. "He was so handsome, so gentlemanly. He always opened the doors for you. He wrote notes to me always in Spanish and said, 'Te quiero mi amor,'" she says.
"He was very slippery, though," Susan says."I didn't suspect him because he worked so hard. That's the impression that I got. He was always busy working."
Diane says Philippe was able to juggle so many women because he had a very strategic plan for fooling each of them. "He had us all lined out," she says. "[One woman got] Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Then he had his Tuesday, Thursday. And then he had somebody on Friday night," she says. He even called everybody sweetie so as not to get any names mixed up.
The women say Philippe was also strategic in the women he chose to date. They all agree he manipulated women who were fairly new to dating and just out of long relationships. "He preyed on the vulnerability," Diane says. "I think everybody kind of felt missing a relationship. We wanted to get back into that solidarity of having a significant other."
That desire to have a partner may have played into their desire to trust him, they say. Both Diane and Tricia, another victim, say they discussed using condoms, but Philippe convinced them it wasn't necessary. "He said: 'No, I'm very wholesome. I'm clean. I'm a martial arts instructor. I live my life so right, and we're adults. This is not necessary,'" Tricia says. "I had not been in the dating scene for many years and made some poor choices there that I wish I could turn around."
Diane says she confronted Philippe about using protection early in the relationship. "I said: 'I'm not seeing anybody else. Are you seeing anybody else?' And he kind of mumbled something. And I said, 'If you're seeing somebody else, that's okay, but we're going to start using condoms.' And then that's when he said, 'No, no, I'm not seeing anybody else.'"
Today, Diane says she should have done her own legwork to confirm what Philippe was saying. "Today my motto is: 'Trust but verify.'"
The women Philippe infected say they weren't especially worried about HIV/AIDS because they didn't fit the profile of someone at risk and they believed Philippe to be the picture of health. According to Dr. Kimberly Smith, an infectious disease specialist at Chicago's Rush Medical Center, this is a common misperception. "You can't look at someone and tell that they have HIV," she says.
Dr. Smith says she is seeing increasing numbers of women in their midlife and senior citizens contracting HIV/AIDS. "We're talking about older men and women who are still healthy and who are sexually active but who don't see themselves as potentially at risk for HIV, so they're engaging in unprotected sex," she says. "The message really should be that it's not who you are, because unfortunately I think from the beginning of the epidemic people were made to believe that you have to be a drug user or promiscuous or a gay man. You don't have to be anything. What you have to do is have unprotected sex and be unlucky enough to come in contact with the wrong person."
To this day, the women don't know for sure when Philippe found out he was HIV positive or how he contracted it. They do know that he infected someone in 1997 and suspect he was infected during time he spent in jail.
One of the hardest parts of the women's journeys has been telling their family that they are infected, they say. "My children found out in a very sad way. One of their friends called them on the phone to say that they had seen Philippe's photograph on the news and he had been arrested for spreading AIDS or HIV. My children knew that I had dated this person for a long time," Megan says. "I felt like I had shorted them because of my misjudgment of some idiot that I was dating, [and] now they might lose their mother."
Tricia says telling her parents was especially hard. "I come from a little bitty country town, raised on a farm. My parents are over 80," she says. "I went home and I just grabbed them by the hand and I said, 'Your daughter made a big mistake.' My daddy just shook his head and he said, 'Oh no, not my little girl.' It broke my heart to see them so sad."
Only Diane says she's talked to Philippe since the charges were filed. "He called me the day after he was arrested, from jail," she says. "He said, 'You're behind this, aren't you?' And I said, 'Yeah, pretty much.' And he said, 'You know you're never going be able to live with yourself if you do this to me.' And I said: 'Let me tell you something, Philippe. I'll never be able to live with myself if I don't.'"
Since their initial diagnosis, all the women are learning to go on with their lives. "We can't look back. We can't change the past," Diane says. "We only have to look forward, and that's why we're trying to change the future for other women."
The women all believe that Philippe had other victims, and they say they are speaking out in order to help those women and their families. "There may even have been people who have family members who died and have not known why," Tricia says. "Perhaps in bringing this public they will see and recognize [Philippe] and know some closure for their pain."
Dating Philippe ended unexpectedly for all five women, but they say they haven't given up on love. "There's a website on which several of us have found the gentleman in our life now. It is just for people who have been infected with HIV/AIDS," Tricia says. "I found a wonderful man who is a 21-year survivor of HIV. ... He possibly is the love of my life, and had I not gone down this journey of pain and making the wrong decisions, I would have never found him."
Since ending her relationship with Philippe, Susan has remarried. "I thought it was over for me too," she says. "I went out and I needed someone to talk to. I found this website where they have people that can be your mentors and can talk to you if you're newly diagnosed. I found this wonderful man who has AIDS, and he has dealt with this for over 15 years. We talked and talked online and then decided to get together, and we got married almost a year ago."
Diane says she is dating someone who does not have HIV. "He's very kind, caring, compassionate," she says. "I disclosed on the second date. That was a difficult moment. But, you know, he's wonderful."
These five of Philippe Padieu's victims have a common goal: to make all women realize they need to be tested for HIV/AIDS. "One thing that really bothers me, which I hear repeated a lot, and Philippe said this to me, is: 'You're going to be okay. This is not a death sentence,'" Susan says. "The message is let's not be complacent. It is a death sentence if you don't know that you have the virus. You will die. You will get sick and you will die and you may not know what it was because doctors are not catching it a lot of times. They don't see a lot of the unrelated symptoms come together. So it's really important that you get tested and you know what your status is."
Don't assume that because you're married or don't fit a specific profile you are safe, says Diane. "Every single time you visit the doctor's office, get a test," she says. "You don't know what your partner's doing. Marriage is no guarantee."
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 13, 2013