Thursday, December 01, 2011

World AIDS Day 2011 -- it's not over

When I was in sixth grade my mom's cousin, who was gay, died of AIDS. We took a family vacation to Arizona during his last few months. My sisters and I all had the chicken pox at the time, so my parents told us that Danny was so sick that we shouldn't be around him. It made perfect sense to me then.

I'm not sure how many years later, but I eventually figured out that Danny had died of AIDS, even though I don't recall being told. The only thing I remember is talking to my dad after I had realized this (I was late in high school or college) and he said that given how much people didn't know about AIDS/HIV they decided to be extra careful (I suspect to protect us and him).

Danny's death and my parents' mostly well-intentioned obscuring of it has had a lasting impact on my life. I've given to HIV/AIDS-related charities and continued to try to keep up on the latest research and statistics (though not to the extent that I could quote them to you right now). The most important consequence though was this story I wrote while a reporter at the Albany Times Union.

Click for more information about AIDS/HIV in 2011.


MIKE FRICANO Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1
Date: Monday, October 1, 2001
Albany A pastel chalk message was all Emily Parker could write to honor her brother.

Shielded from the truth about her brother Chris' death 15 years ago, Emily didn't learn that her brother died of AIDS until 1992. On Sunday, she tried to make amends by letting him and anyone else who reads her fleeting memorial know ``one day we will beat this.'' While scrawling her 8-foot-by-5-foot message, Parker fixed areas where people walked over it. She also took the time to brush the chalk so that it filled in the heart she drew evenly.

``It's a tribute to my brother, because I never really got to say goodbye,'' said Parker, 22, who was one of 1,500 walkers who participated in AIDSWalk 2001. This year's event raised more than $200,000 for education, research and patient care.

After the walkers finished the trek through and around Washington Park, dozens grabbed colorful pieces of chalk and transformed the asphalt in front of the Lakehouse into a rainbow of remembrances for ``Fred'' and ``Jim'' and ``Uncle Dan.''

Sadly, said AIDSWalk coordinator Linda Glassman, the list will get longer. There are 3,475 people in northeastern New York with AIDS and thousands more infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the state Department of Health. Nationally, 774,467 Americans had been reported with AIDS and 448,060 had died of the disease through last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

``AIDS impacts a wide variety of people,'' said Glassman, noting that the infection rate has remained constant even while the death rate decreased.

When Parker learned that her brother died of AIDS, she was angry and sad and even a little glad that she hadn't known all those years.

``This way I remember him as my brother,'' Parker said as she recalled photos of him laughing and having fun.

While progress has been made, frustration abounds for AIDS caregivers, who must compete for limited funds with myriad other diseases and catastrophes. Throughout the last several year, AIDS has ebbed in the public consciousness following the limited success of drug ``cocktails'' in treating patients.

``But it's not a cure,'' Glassman said. In fact, strains of the virus are becoming resistant to the $15,000-a-year drug combination, which counts liver failure and fatty lumps among its harmful side effects.

``What happened in New York City was horrible, but each day across the world 8,300 people die of AIDS,'' Glassman said.

Now Parker, who walked for the first time this year with the Starbucks team, said that she wants to learn more about the disease and to do something concrete to help.

``I'm just really glad that people can do this at least,'' she said, ``so that other families may not have to deal with this.''

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