Living with AIDS: A Personal Story

James Miller, an HIV/AIDS treatment advocate, talks about living with the autoimmune disease, and his concern that HIV/AIDS has receded from the media's attention.

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ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Today marks the sixth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The AIDS epidemic has all but disappeared from national headlines. With the advent of more powerful, new drugs, patients are living healthier lives years, even decades after infection. But the news is not all good. AIDS continues to ravage black America.

In 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control, African Americans made up less than 13 percent of the total U.S. population, but accounted for half of all estimated AIDS cases. James Miller is an HIV/AIDS treatment advocate, an educator with Spectrum Community Services on the campus of Drew University in South Los Angeles. He says, only one thing can stop the spread of AIDS in black America, an open mind.

Mr. JAMES MILLER (HIV/AIDS Treatment Advocate, Spectrum Community Services): It's still thought of in some corners as that gay disease.

GORDON: Mr. Miller has been working with AIDS patients for 20 years now. He also has AIDS.

Mr. MILLER: I was formally diagnosed in 1986. It was quite a shock. It shouldn't have been. I'm a recovering crack addict.

GORDON: Mr. James Miller, in his words.

Mr. MILLER: I cried. But in a couple of days, I picked myself up. I was in the service. So I went to the VA and was started on medication. I tried to take my life and tell a lot of my clients and confide in them what I'm living with and how I do it. A 27-year old man came into my office. He could hardly walk, very frail, very dark, and he wasn't his natural color. He had no idea that he was infected until he got very ill and he was placed in the hospital.

When we looked at his blood work, we could tell that this young man had been infected some seven to 10 years prior. I counseled him on how these medications had to be taken on a continual basis. His family support is very minimal, at best. They do not embrace him. I know I called him at one time and I could get no response from the person that answered the phone. He said he wasn't there. No, he didn't live there. Knowing that someone is so ill and not being able to give him just the minimal support of passing a phone message is quite remarkable in this day and time.

He walked into my office last week. It was a totally different person. His skin color had revitalized. He's doing very well. But, of course, it makes me very sad because to see him four months ago I didn't know whether he would be able to do it or not.

GORDON: That again was James Miller, an HIV/AID treatment advocate and educator with Spectrum Community Services in South Los Angeles.

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