It's been more than 20 years since the AIDS epidemic began, and people are still battling it and its precursor, HIV.
Unlike the early days, when a diagnosis was a death sentence, there are now drugs available that help people keep
their immune systems strong, but in no way lessen the toll the disease takes on the health, financial well-being and
support networks of those infected.
Residents of Southwest Colorado are not immune (and I don't mean that as a pun) - more than 30 HIV-positive people
are in treatment with Dr. Chuck Salka, our local infectious-diseases specialist. And that doesn't
count the many who drive to Albuquerque or Denver for treatment because of the stigma that unfortunately is still
attached to the disease.
On Nov. 7, about 125 people gathered at the Henry Strater Theatre for the 13th annual Durango Aid, Comfort and
Support Benefit. The goal was to raise funds for the educational arm of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and
for the Western Colorado AIDS Project, which offers referrals, advocacy and services to HIV-infected people,
everything from medical support to keeping a roof over their heads.
The evening began in the Pullman Room at the Strater, where a number of businesses and individuals had generously
donated items for a silent auction. There was a lot of browsing, catching up and bidding before guests went upstairs
for the dinner and program.
After hors d'oeuvres of tomato, basil and mozzarella bruschetta and brie and figs in phyllo cups with a chardonnay
reduction, guests enjoyed 1887 Catering's signature salad of greens with red grapes, candied walnuts, gorgonzola
cheese, red onions and raspberry vinaigrette. The duet entrée featured pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin with tomato
fondue and salmon with lemon-caper butter served with herbed mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. Dessert was a
sinful triple-chocolate-mousse tower. It was a tasty start to the evening.
Scott Hagler had recruited a men's chorus that delighted the crowd with humor and compassion to kick
off the program. Then it was time to remind everyone why we were there.
Members of Team Colorado who participated in the AIDS/LifeCycle: Cycling to End AIDS ride had traveled to Durango
from the Front Range and central Colorado to talk about the experience. The ride of 545 miles goes from San Francisco
to Los Angeles. (I was surprised to see that no riders from this bike-crazy town had participated. Maybe next year.)
As one rider said, "As long as one of us has AIDS, all of us have AIDS."
One man, from the San Luis Valley, talked about how his training rides had created quite the buzz and allowed him to
engage people in conversation about the subject. A Dove Creek native said that it surprised people to learn that AIDS
and HIV don't only happen in cities and Third World countries.
All of them talked about the warm greetings they received in towns large and small along the route, with people
holding signs saying, "Thank you for riding for me" and "You're a hero!"
Those Front Range folks were surely impressed by the talented young people who sang and danced for the main event.
Students from Bella Dance Studio, organized by owner Dani Scarafiottis, and Bravo Dance Studio, led
by owner Suzy DiSanto, filled the stage for numbers ranging from hip-hop to lyrical.
Then it was time for attendees to cut some dance moves of their own.
The event raised $10,000, which will be split between the beneficiaries. Organizers included director
"font-weight: bold;">Mark Wiechmann, committee member Hope Espinosa,
Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity chairman Greg Weiss and vice-chairwoman
Diane Morazan, and fundraising chairwoman Kathy Richardson. They all should be
pleased with the fruits of their labors.
AIDS and HIV are often conversation stoppers, but it's a conversation we need to have.
More than half - almost 60 percent, to be exact - of new cases are in people age 39 and younger, a population that
doesn't think AIDS can happen to them because it's not on the front page anymore. High-risk heterosexual contact is
infecting numerous young men and women. That's right, our daughters and granddaughters are as at risk as well as
our sons and grandsons. More than 57 percent of newly diagnosed cases of HIV are in young women who were infected
through heterosexual contact.
There aren't good numbers available for how many HIV-positive and AIDS patients there are in Southwest Colorado,
because only those who were diagnosed here are counted, not anyone who has moved here or moved away. But more than
30 people are being treated in La Plata County alone.
Rick (last name withheld), who was diagnosed in 2002 as HIV positive, knows exactly when he was infected. "Nov. 11,
2001" is how he begins telling his story. He began taking medications in 2003 and takes three pills each night at a
cost of $300 a month. That is not covered by his insurance, which still considers the meds experimental after 10
years on the market. In fact, the average HIV-positive patient spends upward of $10,000 a year on medications,
doctors' visits, etc. - and that is with insurance.
Rick is feeling pretty strong right now and is able to perform at a physically demanding job. While he hasn't told
people at work about his condition, he is quite vocal in the gay community, because he has heard too many young
people say that they don't have to worry about it. "With that attitude," he said, "you'll be coming to the party
Rick has the attitude he learned from his companion, who was also HIV-positive, before he died of a heart attack at
home in his sleep and with his dignity.
"I'm not going to die from this either," Rick said. "I refuse."
Before the 13th annual Durango Aid, Comfort and Support Benefit on Nov. 7, Planned Parenthood and WestCAP offered
free and confidential HIV testing in Ignacio, Durango and at Fort Lewis College. They tested 50 people and were
pleased to report no new cases. Greg Weiss, the chairman of the board of Four Corners Gay and
Lesbian Alliance for Diversity, was also happy to announce that free testing will continue to be offered at the
Fort Lewis College Health Center, which is particularly important in a college-age population that is at high risk.
If you would like to support the work of the Western Colorado AIDS Project and Planned Parenthood's efforts in
teaching safe-sex protocols, send your donation to Four Corners GLAD/AIDS Project, P.O. Box 1656, Durango, CO
For those who have been touched in some way by AIDS - and that's all of us - St. Mark's Episcopal Church will hold
a nondenominational service of remembrance, hope and healing at noon on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
I attended last year, and it was a powerful time of acknowledging this devastating disease and committing to its
Here's wishing these folks enough air to blow out their birthday candles this week - Beth White,
Grace Pansze, Jacob Rudolph, Judith Johnson, Marti
Kiely, Stacy Webb, Ron Shubert, McKenzie Rion,
SherryWilmoth, Stacy Waterman, Megan Deaver,
Branden Marquez, Margie Winkelbauer, Sarah VonTersch,
Sharon Gordon, Joanne Spina, Julie Shimada, Carol
Grenoble, Ann Casler, Sharon Harris, Maggie Scottand
It may be a satellite campus, but the University of Denver's Durango-based Four Corners Master of Social Work
Program gets lots of recognition from the mother ship.
In May, Site Director Wanda Ellingson was presented the 2008-2009 Kay Stevenson Faculty Citizen
Award by Dean James Herbert Williams, and the presentation was featured in the Fall 2009 issue of the DU
Graduate School of Social Work Magazine.
Ellingson is a clinical associate professor and has led the Four Corners program since its inception in 2002.
She has helped develop a program for social workers who deal with the multicultural fabric of our area, including
several Native American tribes. Since the program was established, 61 students have earned their degrees in or near
Students and graduates include members of the Acoma Pueblo, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, Shawnee, Southern Ute, Ute
Mountain Ute, Choctaw and Tlingit Indian tribes.
Durango's own mayor, Leigh Meigs, who earned her law degree in 1985, is currently a student in the
Reflecting on a year (or many) of connubial bliss are Leeand Pauline Murphy,
Bob Popeand Alice Robison, Dougand Kim Pierce,
Regand Bev Grahamand Charlesand Ruth Guarino.
For information on upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs.
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