When Barb Wise went to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases in 1993, she planned on clearing the slate of her sexual past to open up a future with her then-boyfriend, Rick.
Instead of a new start, however, Barb found herself feeling hopeless and realizing the impact of her past choices.
When the results came back saying she was HIV positive and at the progressive stage of AIDS, Barb felt overwhelmed with depression and despair for her future, she told a group of students in Engineering 100 Tuesday night.
Barb left the doctor’s office hopeless and holding onto a little blue book about AIDS, the contents of which could never have prepared her for the consequences and challenges she and Rick would face.
One of the first challenges was breaking the news to Rick, who had been shopping for an engagement ring the day Barb got the results. They were going to have dinner together that night and while Rick still had no idea of the results, Barb cried relentlessly at home and prepared herself to tell Rick and end the relationship.
That night, Barb instead learned again of just how lucky she was to have found a man that honored and valued her. Rick was committed to marrying and supporting Barb and he told her so that night.
Given only two weeks to a year to live, Barb started making both her marriage and funeral plans shortly after.
Today, after more than 15 years of marriage, Rick Wise is still committed to his wife and together they are using their story to educate students across the U.S. and the world in hopes that they can prevent another person from living with HIV and suffering the costs that can come from one decision.
“Barb and I have had 15 years of painful consequences from that one choice,” Rick told the crowd of students.
That choice was made when Barb had sex for the first time her sophomore year of college. It was later determined that she was infected with AIDS that night.
Barb explained that a lot of young people, including herself when she was young, don’t realize how valuable they should feel in a relationship and the boundaries they should set.
“I want to empower young people to make healthy relationship choices,” Barb told the Collegian.
“Unconditional love exists and they’re valuable enough to receive it,” she added. “A lot of young people have lost their sense of value.”
Rick encouraged men in the audience to honor women and set sexual boundaries because decisions about sex today can impact a marriage in the future. Rick was a virgin when he met Barb because he did not want to hurt his wife and children in the future.
When Barb told him about her sexual past, he was disappointed and upset but wanted to make it work. When she was diagnosed with AIDS, he was devastated, but now he wants to share that a good marriage is still possible.
“There is a lot of hopelessness out there that it’s not possible,” Rick later said in an interview. “. A good marriage is possible . there are good guys out there.”
After the presentation, the Collegian approached two students in tears after talking with Barb.
“It’s so amazing to see how much her husband loved her,” Emily Skinner, a senior English major, said.
Rick and Barb hope their message will make students rethink their decisions about sex, and that students will wait until marriage so they don’t have to face the 15 years of consequences that they have experienced.
Barb and Rick will present again tonight at 7 p.m. in Engineering 100.
Staff writer Kaeli West can be reached at email@example.com.