Positive since 1987
2017 marks the 30th year since I was diagnosed with HIV, and it also marks the 22nd year that I have worked at the Western Australian AIDS Council in Perth. This has been an incredible journey on so many levels. I moved to the AIDS Council after working for five years at a local PLWHA [People Living With HIV/AIDS] organization.
In that time, I have worked locally and nationally on a range of different committees and groups that have advocated, raised funds and worked directly with other people living with HIV. I have met some really amazing people on this journey.This year, I returned to the position that I held when I first joined the AIDS Council: HIV-positive peer educator. It is just amazing to once again work directly with people living with HIV.
Those very early days were never easy. I had some incredible triumphs and much heartache, as I watched many of my close friends and peers lose their battle with HIV. There were too many funerals, too much grief and too many tears. But through all that, a sense of hope never left me.
I was always hopeful that we would turn a corner, that we would get to the time when HIV would be a manageable illness (at least for those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world) and that I could stop having to say goodbye to some amazing people in my life. When I reflect, I remember all those gorgeous men and women who played such an important part in my life who I no longer have the honor to see anymore but still hold in my heart.
I have been blessed for the past 35 years to have the most amazing partner. He has been on my journey with me. We have shared so much, experienced a lot and grown together through this epidemic. I also have been blessed to have coparented two children and now have five divine grandchildren who make my desire to live a full and complete life so strong.
There have certainly been some complications over the past 30 years, but I don’t think any life is ever easy. I have had a number of challenges post-diagnosis. Probably the most serious was when I had rapid onset Guillain-Barré syndrome nearly three years ago and had a total shutdown of my nervous system. My lungs collapsed. I had to spend 12 days in intensive care and have a tracheotomy to allow me to breathe. I dealt with five complete plasma replacement treatments to eradicate my body and then had to learn how to walk again, among other things.
I have to say, though, that my life has been filled with much love, laughter, blessings, joy and happiness. I continue to focus on the positive to allow me to live an amazing life. I have worked with, known and made friends with people in this amazing HIV community, which I am also honored to be a part of. Every day, I am thankful to still be here and to still be working with and alongside other people living with HIV as we continue to build resilience, reduce stigma and discrimination and educate people.
What three adjectives best describe you?
I see myself as a person who surrounds himself with positive energy, determination to do my very best in all aspects of my life and filled with much love.
What is your greatest achievement?
My children and grandchildren.
What is your greatest regret?
I try not to have regrets in my life and to focus on the positive.
What keeps you up at night?
Sometimes, I do worry too much, which keeps me up at night.
If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
This is the hand that I have been dealt, so there is nothing that I would change. Everything that happens is a life lesson that hopefully makes me a better human being.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Stay positive, stay focused and never lose sight of the end point.
What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Nic Holas, one of the founding members of TIM (The Institute of Many), a closed Facebook group in Australia that allows people to connect, share stories and socialize with other people living with HIV.
What drives you to do what you do?
Compassion, love, passion and the desire to make a difference.
What is your motto?
Live life to the fullest each and every day, but never forget to sometimes stop, just breathe and enjoy the wonder around you.
If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
An eagle, so that I can soar up high and survey the wonder of the world.