Since My Brother Died in 1994, AIDS is a Different but Still Deadly Disease

Since My Brother Died in 1994, AIDS is a Different but Still Deadly Disease

Let’s time travel back to 1983. My brother was 19, I was 18…

This week was World Aids Day. My brother lost his life to AIDS in 1994. He was 29 years old and one of the first people who contracted the HIV disease in the early eighties, when nobody knew yet what exactly the disease is. The only thing that was known is that there was no cure and eventually you would die in a long painful process from the resulting Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  

I want to take this day to remember my brother, D., by telling what is was like in the 80s and early 90s to deal with HIV and AIDS. So, let’s time travel back to 1983. My brother was 19, I was 18. We both took risks and tried out drinking, sex, drugs. One day a magazine appeared with the title “Deadly and mysterious epidemic AIDS is just getting started.” The article described who was at risk and the alarming speed at which the disease was spreading, and it recommended that people in the at-risk population get tested. My brother and a few of his friends were part of the at-risk population – a mix of gay men and casual drug users. I remember them going into the test lightheartedly – doing the test more as a precaution to set a clean baseline while promising to behave smarter after that by using condoms, not sharing syringes, etc.  

Two out of the group tested HIV positive. One of them was D. He chose not to tell anyone because he did not want to be stigmatized. Times were much less open than today. D. told me later what it felt like to live with a death sentence – it was an on and off battle with fear for him.  

The disease lay dormant for eight years and then hit with a vengeance in 1991. It started with a strong skin rash around his waist that contaminated his eyes and within a few months he all but lost his eyesight. Then the weight loss increased. Pneumonia on and off. He described it this way: “When the next infection hits you, you feel like you are swallowed by a big black mass that attacks anything it can to destroy your body. And when you get out of it and see some light, the only thing you know is that the next wave will be even worse.”  

His partner once told me the worst thing during those two years was that everybody was so scared of the disease – even doctors and nurses in the hospitals. Whenever possible, they avoided contact with my brother out of fear of contamination. D. died in the night before his 30th birthday. He died in his partner’s arms, at home. I am so grateful for the immense deep love they shared over the ten years after his diagnosis up to his death. Life writes bittersweet stories. 

Please remember: HIV is the virus that if not treated can turn into chronic, potentially life-threatening condition AIDS. The two most common ways that people become infected with HIV are: 

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse (either vaginal or anal) with someone who has HIV. The virus can enter through the linings of the vagina, rectum, mouth, or the opening at the tip of the penis and the majority of HIV-positive young adults in the U.S. become infected this way. 
  • Sharing needles or syringes (including those used for steroids) with someone who has HIV. 

Only 47% of teens have used a condom during a last sexual experience according to a 2017 report on youth risk behavior! Please be part of the smarter half of people and insist on condoms. Always. And never share syringes. Never.