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Living with HIV

 by Annalyn Censky
 published on Friday, December 1, 2006

/issues/news/699119
Christopher Atwood / THE STATE PRESS
 

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WORLD AIDS DAY
Red, for more than 150 student activists, is not just the color of blood and AIDS it's the color of hope. Red ribbons and red T-shirts will dot Hayden Lawn and the Memorial Union today as more than eight student organizations observe World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is an international movement aimed at promoting awareness and activism to decrease the spread of HIV and AIDS.

David is like any other ASU student - he studies for finals, volunteers with a campus group and likes to party with friends every once in a while.

But at 42, David has already lived more than two decades with HIV - the retrovirus that causes AIDS.

David, whose last name is not being used for reasons of privacy, is not just someone you may pass on your way to class each day - he's also a survivor.

In 1984, David had to drop his plans to attend Ohio State University so he could work various jobs with medical benefits. With the limited knowledge doctors had about HIV at the time, he couldn't expect to live more than five years.

"I was basically given a five-year death sentence," he said. "Now I need to catch up. I hadn't planned on living this long based on what they told me."

After returning to school as a full-time student in 2002, David is finally on a path to achieving his dreams and aspirations, he said.

He hopes to graduate with more than one baccalaureate degree by May 2008, and then he wants to attend graduate school.

But the future didn't always look so bright.

When David was first diagnosed, there weren't any medicines to treat HIV and doctors didn't understand the virus. The public's knowledge about the infection was even more lacking.

Widespread stigmas that stereotyped the infection to white gay men, drug users and sex workers were commonplace, David said.

"Back then, if someone found out you had HIV, it was like you had the plague," he said.

Shunned by one of his own siblings, David was no longer welcome at family barbecues and he wasn't allowed to see his own nephew.

People were afraid to hug him, kiss him or even sit beside him, he said.

David contracted the infection by having unprotected sex with a partner whom he didn't realize was HIV positive.

"It's not like you can look at someone and tell," he said. "Anyone can be positive."

That partner, who was an old friend from high school, later died of AIDS.

David's romantic relationships after his diagnosis were rocky. Some people would run away after finding out he was HIV positive, he said.

But in spite of all the difficulties, David is not only beating the odds by staying alive - he's trying to live his life to the fullest as well.

He has to watch his health extra carefully and takes pills several times a day to control the infection. But he refuses to watch the clock and let his treatment regimen control his day-to-day life.

"I've never been one to live inside a bubble," he said. "I try not to let HIV run my life."

Called a "success story" by friend Freddie Roman, David is now a full-time ASU student who also volunteers with an AIDS awareness group.

He promotes safer sex practices and educates other students about sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

After years working in real estate and securities, he wants to pursue a career in affordable housing and education after he earns his degrees.

"I hope to live a long and healthful life like anybody else would," he said. "I'm maximizing life, and minimizing the effect of HIV."

For David, World AIDS Day is about hope for his own future, and the hope that one day there will be an end to the global AIDS epidemic.


WORLD AIDS DAY EVENTS

There are more than 39 million people worldwide living with HIV, according to UNAIDS.

Today, student groups seek to change those statistics.

Free HIV Testing, Free Condoms

10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Hayden Lawn

AIDS HOPE will offer free condoms and free HIV testing. The tests, which include pre- and post-counseling, are rapid blood tests that take less than 10 minutes for results.

Rally and Legislative Activism Booth

12:30 - 1:30 p.m.

Outside Memorial Union

Rally will include speeches by student activists and professor Bert Jacobs, who is developing an HIV vaccine at ASU's Biodesign Institute.



Students can also call and write letters to government officials supporting the Ryan White CARE Act, at a legislative activism booth set up by the American Medical Student Association.



The Ryan White CARE Act provides treatment for people with HIV or AIDS who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid and do not have private insurance.



FACE AIDS Movie Screening, Pins

"A Closer Walk"

3 p.m.

LSA 191

Sponsored by FACE AIDS, this free screening features a documentary on the global AIDS epidemic.

The group will also sell pins, handmade by women in Zambia to raise funding for AIDS and HIV patients in Africa.

Reach the reporter at: annalyn.censky@asu.edu.



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