Death is hard to deal with at any age, but when growing up, the passing of peers can leave a lasting impression.
Every December the tragic death of one of my high school classmates is always brought to mind. This classmate not only made my small Indiana school aware of how precious — and often short — life can be, he also shattered the prejudices that were all too common in those days.
In 1988, a year after the first case of human immunodeficiency virus infection was diagnosed in America, I, and the entire community of Hamilton Heights High School, had a personal experience with the effects of this disease when Ryan White enrolled in school.
Ryan was a hemophiliac who became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment. When parents and teachers at his school in Kokomo, Ind. found out he had AIDS, they rallied against him and he was expelled. After a bullet was fired through their window, the White family moved out of Kokomo and moved to my hometown of Cicero, Ind.
At a community-wide meeting, the principal of the school educated us about HIV and AIDS. We were told that it is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids and you could not catch it from sharing a water fountain, toilet seat or desk with a person who has HIV.
It is amazing what a little education can do. I, nor any of my fellow students, had a problem with Ryan going to school with us. There were no angry parent rallies or gunshots.
While the stigma related with being HIV positive has lessened over the years, there are still too many people who suffer due to ignorance and, as a result, are isolated from the support that is crucial for managing any chronic disease.
Not only does prejudice negatively affect those already battling HIV/ AIDS, it allows the virus to spread due to lack of information on the disease. The epidemic continues to devastate the United States and the international community with an average of 50,000 new HIV infections each year in the United States and an estimated 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.
You can make a difference by donating to HIV/AIDS research at buylife.org, abstaining from risky activities and getting tested. Local testing sites include: Stanislaus Health Services Agency, 800 Delbon Ave., Ste. A, Turlock, 664-8000 and Golden Valley Health Centers, 1200 W. Main St., Turlock, 668-5388.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.