HIV AIDS Stigma and education

HIV ‘No Longer a Death Sentence’

HIV ‘No Longer a Death Sentence’

By Skyler Swisher
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Richard Stokes received a death sentence 29 years ago. In 1983, he sat down with his doctor and learned he was HIV positive. The doctor gave him six months to live. ”At that time, there was really no medication,” said Stokes, 64. “There was no help. There was nowhere to turn.”

Today, Stokes said he is living a fulfilling life, thanks to nine pills he takes daily to keep the disease under control. Advances in treatment have turned HIV into a chronic illness — similar to diabetes — that must be managed.

Stokes will share his story during a community-outreach event that seeks to stop the spread of HIV and eliminate the stigma often associated with the disease.

While HIV no longer carries the same death sentence it once did, about 50,000 people contract the disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Stokes, a patient advocate for Outreach Community Care Network, is hoping his story will prompt more people to get tested and know their status. Stokes’ organization will hold a community outreach event from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the John H. Dickerson Community Center, 308 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Outreach Community Care Network provides free HIV testing at its clinic on North Frederick Avenue. HIV patients also receive help with their treatment through the nonprofit organization.

The community center where the event will be held is in the heart of the neighborhood with the highest number of AIDS cases in Volusia County.

About 428 of the county’s roughly 1,300 HIV and AIDS patients live in the 32114 zip code, which includes mainland Daytona Beach and the Midtown neighborhood. The next highest zip code — 32117 — has 123 cases. That zip code includes the Holly Hill area.

While some neighborhoods have higher concentrations of cases, AIDS doesn’t discriminate and affects every walk of life, said Loretta Jennings, executive director of the Outreach Community Care Network.

One of the objectives of Saturday’s event is to get people talking about HIV, she said.

“The majority of our clients were not out on the streets,” Jennings said. “They were not out running around.”

A phone call prompted Stokes to get tested back in the 1980s. His partner had donated blood in Orlando, and one of the recipients was diagnosed with HIV.

About a year after the diagnosis, his partner shut himself in his garage and committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning. Stokes believes the feeling of hopelessness caused by the diagnosis led to the suicide.

Stokes kept his status from all but his closest friends and loved ones in the years following his diagnosis.

But he said he now realizes speaking out can save others. He’s also living life. He recently completed a 5,000-mile motorcycle trip to the Grand Canyon.

“I think the reason I am here today is to help people realize there is help now,” Stokes said. “There’s no longer a death sentence. It’s a treatable chronic illness.” Read original article

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