A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing an amazing man named Jim Foley, who has AIDS. I was privileged to hear his story. It gave me a whole new perspective on what HIV/AIDS really is. I walked away that day in admiration of the strength and courage people living with the disease have. I carry with me the hope that they will one day find a cure.
The article below was originally published on the blog This Dish is Veg on Dec. 1, 2010. I thought I would share it with you.
Today on World AIDS Day we would like to take a few minutes to honor the many men, women and children who have lost the battle against AIDS. You’re in our thoughts and hearts. We also would like to acknowledge the strength and courage of the millions of people currently living with the virus. On this day, people from all over the world will band together to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. In an effort to fight the stigma that is still associated with the virus, I would like to share a story I wrote one year ago.
It is a windy afternoon in July with the sun slightly blocked by grayish white puffy clouds. The trees outside seem to be doing a dance harmoniously together and the Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN) building is casting a large shadow in a way that almost reminds us how much of an impact they have on everyone who is affected by HIV/AIDS in Nevada.
Jim Foley, a Prevention Education Coordinator at AFAN, walks casually into the room and says hello. Foley has a warm smile with keen eyes that could tell many tales, but today the tale he has to tell is still one that brings tears to his eyes. “I was an out of place punk rocker who wanted to live life my own way, so I moved from Boston to Las Vegas in the ‘80s. At the time I thought I was practicing safe sex, but it turns out I was not.” A few years later Foley was diagnosed with HIV.
By 1994 he had developed AIDS. His doctor at the time gave him only six months to live. Thinking he was going to die, Foley moved back to Boston to be with his family. Up until that point Foley had not disclosed his status to them. “At first my family was devastated not because I had AIDS, but because I had waited so long to tell them I was sick. I guess I never really gave them the chance to process it.”
As a last resort, Foley found himself in a clinic with a doctor just starting out in the HIV field. He consented to be a part of a clinical study for drugs just about to come out on the market. It was the miracle he needed.
Foley has worked for AFAN for the last three years — first as a case manager and then as a Prevention Education Coordinator. Foley has experienced firsthand what it is like to walk a mile in his client’s shoes: “There is a stigma associated with AIDS because people get a picture in their heads of the people in the early ‘80s — all skin and bones in a hospital bed hooked up to all these machines. In the early days, people treated you differently, even the doctors. I once had a doctor who wouldn’t even touch me. A lot has changed now.”
Twenty-two years later, Jim is happy and healthy, he continues his work educating and supporting those affected with HIV/AIDS. “A day doesn’t go by that I am not reminded I have AIDS. It has changed me in ways I can’t even begin to describe. It has made me appreciate life more and enjoy the special moments.”
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) there are currently an estimated 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. In 2009 about 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get tested if you believe you might have been exposed. A person can go years without displaying any symptoms of the virus, as a result, exposing more innocent people to what can potentially a be deadly virus. With that being said, today the medication used to treat the virus has proven to be very effective, with manageable side effects. There is no reason why a newly-diagnosed person who is put on the right drug regimen with a healthy diet and exercise can’t live a long healthy life.
Lastly, it is important to remember that nobody asks to be infected with HIV or AIDS. The virus is not discriminatory by any means, so if you are reading this story and are newly diagnosed, please know you are not alone.
Courtesy Images: (RED)