Connecticut Man Battles Disease, Stigmas

"Four years ago, I was an unwilling participant in a sex act.  I ended up in the hospital.  Two months later I tested positive for HIV."

Michael lives in Connecticut.  He's asked us to keep his last name private because of the nature of the story.  He's fighting a battle in which there are no winners.

Before moving to Connecticut, Michael worked as an advocate for AIDS patients.  He was the executive director of a large AIDS outreach organization for 7 years.  He said he knew everything about AIDS, and then it happened to him.

"It was a very eye opening experience after the attack," he said.  "First, to see how they reacted at the hospital - they didn't know what to do.  They had to try and figure out how to prevent me from getting infected."

They weren't able to.  That was several years ago.  Michael is still battling the disease, as is his lover.

"I do have a partner now.  He's been positive for more than 20 years.  He's developed a disease that's very rare, where his own immune system is destroying his blood platelets," said Michael.  "He bleeds and he gets bruised very easily.  There's a very strong chance that if he simply hit his head...he would die."

Michael said the two of them are in a very unique situation.

"We both work.  We are both very hard workers.  Our story is very different from people who received from the funding stream from the government.  We've both held jobs all of our lives," he said.

What makes things differ rent, is that they make too much money to qualify for assistance.  Michael's partner is covered under his insurance, thanks to their civil union.  But if he wasn't, he said the consequences would be unimaginable.

"It costs $7,000 per MONTH to pay for the medication for the two of us.  That's not including hospital visits.  That's JUST medication," he said.  Medication that he said is paid for mostly by his insurance.

Others aren't so lucky.

"My friends that work in retail or maybe work for a hotel and have little to no insurance," he said.  "They rely on the help with the co-pays, help with utility bills, help with rent, or even help with mortgages.  They couldn't get by without it, they'd be on the streets -- homeless and sick."

The government and outreach organizations often step in where others have shunned them.

"I'm very lucky that my mom accepts me for who I am.  She's been very supportive of me throughout this whole ordeal.  My dad won't hardly talk to me anymore.  I haven't been invited back to his homestead in four years since I told him," he said.  "My sister... they're Baptists.  They're not mean to me, but I've lived in Connecticut for almost two years now and my sister hasn't called me once.  I know there's a reason for it, she just won't say it."

He said it's not so much a stigma, it's that people aren't comfortable talking about it.

"People with HIV are just like you and me," he said.  "Anybody that has HIV and doesn't have the resources that I've had access to - maybe they come from a community with a high unemployment rate - it's hard to get by on a daily basis.  Now add HIV on top of that and you make almost an impossible situation.

The numbers of people infected with HIV and AIDS in Connecticut are staggering.  According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, there have been 18,950 cases of HIV/AIDS reported in Connecticut since 1982 and 43 percent of those patients have died.

Many of them, Michael's friends.

"I can say that every African-American man that I went to college with that I was friends with and was gay has passed away," he said.

He said their loss impacts not just the lives they touched, but the lives they didn't have the opportunity to touch.

"Many times I lay awake and night and think about what contributions those men could have made in our society, and we'll never know. You never know what's missing until it's gone."

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