Mar 082004
 
Authors: Taylour Nelson

The entrance is hidden. The door is on the side of the building

behind a tall bush, slightly lower than ground level. On the door a

sign states, “Safezone: this place respects all people.”

Nervous clients, who sometimes park their cars blocks away and

walk to the building, pass through that door every day.

This building is the location of Northern Colorado AIDS Project,

400 Remington St. # 100, an organization that serves the needs of

eight counties in Northern Colorado.

NCAP gives confidential HIV test results to 900 people every

year. Most of them are lucky, said Christiano Sosa, executive

director of NCAP. Most of the people who pass through the doors are

given negative results.

Others, nearly 15 each year in Northern Colorado, receive

positive results.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

published a report in September that said there are currently 3,530

people living with AIDS in Colorado, with the largest percentage

coming from Caucasian men ages 30 to 39.

NCAP’s caseloads have swelled nearly 15 percent in the last six

months, partly because AIDS awareness is less of a priority, Sosa

said.

“There used to be a time when everyone wore a red ribbon and

there was all this awareness but those days have fallen by the

wayside,” he said.

Some clients’ families are unable to deal with the reality of

the disease, and NCAP tries to pick up where those family members

have left off.

“Oftentimes the family has shunned them and they have little

avenues for support,” Sosa said. “But that’s why we’re here, to

give them that support if their families can’t.”

More than the physical and emotional support, like many AIDS

projects throughout the nation, NCAP provides advocacy to clients

who have been discriminated against and fired from their jobs.

Built solely on donations, grants and federal funding, the

organization helps pay health insurance, rent and utility bills for

its need-based clients.

HIV and AIDS are not curable diseases; they trap their host and

slowly kill them. Medications can slow the process, but committing

to the pills, the injections and the side effects means the patient

will take the drugs every day for the rest of his or her life.

John McGlynn, 51, a Fort Collins resident who worked in food

service at the Durrell Center, is a long-term survivor. He has

learned a few things since being diagnosed.

“A little ounce of prevention goes a long way,” he said. “Had I

gone and gotten tested for HIV years ago, I wouldn’t be in the

situation or place I am now.”

His story started Thanksgiving weekend, 2001.

McGlynn had been feeling tired and was looking forward to

spending his break sleeping. He went to see his doctor, who

concluded he had emphysema because of his smoking habit. A few

weeks later, he went back to his doctor for more tests, and the

doctor said he had a severe form of pneumonia, called pneumocystis

carinii pneumonia, also known as PCP. The doctors told him 98

percent of people who contract PCP also have AIDS.

“And I said ‘not me dude. I haven’t had sex in years, no way,'”

McGlynn said.

The AIDS test came back inconclusive, and McGlynn said he gave

the doctor an assured I-told-you-so speech. The doctor was not

quite as convinced, and sent McGlynn to Dr. Charles Steinberg, a

nationally know AIDS specialist in Boulder, to talk about the test

results.

“He got this model of a cell out and he’s going through all this

crap and explaining and I go, ‘Do I have AIDS?'” McGlynn said,

recounting the day in January 2002. “(Dr. Steinberg) goes, ‘Well,

yeah, hasn’t anybody told you?’ And I said ‘No, this is the first

time I have ever heard about it.'”

His tests had come back positive; McGlynn had passed the point

of HIV infection and his disease had turned into AIDS.

Doctors later examined McGlynn’s sexual history and concluded he

had been infected with HIV for nearly five years before showing

symptoms and getting tested. There was a time when McGlynn had

multiple partners and used no protection; to this day he is not

sure from whom he contracted the HIV virus.

“It didn’t really hit me then. It hit me on the way home from

the doctor,” McGlynn said. “I got really teary eyed and I had to

pull over to the side of the road and think about it.”

McGlynn said that he did not know much about AIDS when he was

diagnosed. He assumed he could take the medication and be back to

work within weeks.

He did try to go back to work at the Durrell Center, but because

AIDS affects a person’s immune system, his body was not strong

enough to fight off common infections that circulate in the

residence halls.

“I tried to do full days, but I didn’t even finish my first full

day,” he said. “I got chicken pox.”

AIDS took a toll on his body and McGlynn eventually had to

resign.

When he was first diagnosed, McGlynn was ingesting 18 different

medications. The pills were fighting off his PCP, chicken pox and

AIDS.

“It was just unbelievable, and I had all these side effects,” he

said.

During the 1980s, when AIDS started to kill large numbers of

people, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started to give AIDS

medication fast-track drug approval. This was in response to the

need for life-sustaining drugs. Now, because these medications are

available, people can live longer with the disease.

But because these medications are not fully tested, the patients

who are taking the medication are the test subjects, Sosa said.

“Everyone on HIV therapy is basically on clinical trial.

(Researchers) are finding side effects that they never intended,”

Sosa said. “We are finding clients that are passing away not

because of the HIV, but because of kidney and liver problems. The

bottom line is that we don’t know the long-term effects of these

medications.”

McGlynn takes four different medications every morning. He is

also part of a clinical trial with the University of Colorado

Hospital in Denver and injects himself every night with the trial

medication. His AIDS medication bills total $45,000 a year. This is

not including doctor visits or other complications; these are the

medications that sustain McGlynn’s life. Because McGlynn is a

military veteran, the Department of Veteran Affairs covers all his

medication costs.

Each client who comes into NCAP has a unique story, and the

transmission of the disease varies as well. Sosa said most clients

contract the disease though unsafe sex because of decision making

that usually involves alcohol or drugs.

“We’re living in a very different age; intimacy can kill you

now,” Sosa said. “HIV is entirely preventable and it’s condom use

that’s going to prevent it.”

Women who have been in married, monogamous relationships for 20

years, have passed through the doors of NCAP and have been given

positive HIV tests, because their husband had not been honest.

“We don’t truly know what our partners are doing unless we ask

those questions,” Sosa said.

NCAP recently expanded to open an office in Sterling, a town

with a population of 11,000, to meet the needs of the growing

number of people in rural areas who are infected with HIV.

“The reality is there are people infected in Northern Colorado.

That’s the reason we’re here. If there were no AIDS in Northern

Colorado, there would be no need for this project,” Sosa said.

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