SF State student AIDS redefines the odds
December 13, 2006 11:12 AM
Kenric Bailey led two guests into his apartment for a meeting that was never supposed to take place. In fact, the calendar that hung by the door was never supposed to be turned to December, 2006. Kenric Bailey was supposed to die 15 years ago.
Bailey, 46, was diagnosed with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, in 1988 – a time when the diagnosis was considered a death sentence.
AIDS was young in the United States. The first reports of its existence were only published in 1981. As the Centers for Disease Control and the surgeon general worked to communicate how the virus was transmitted, many physicians could only watch as their patients died.
Dr. Robert C. Scott, chairman of the Allen Temple AIDS Ministry and a practicing physician, began working with HIV/AIDS patients as soon as the disease was noted in the early ’80s.
“After a patient was diagnosed, they would live for three to nine months, so I was really a hospice physician,” Scott said.
Despite his diagnosis in 1988, Bailey did not seek treatment for the virus until 1991, at which time Bailey was told the disease had progressed into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
“At that time in 1991, the doctors told me I only had three years to live,” he said. “I didn’t believe them and I convinced myself that I was going to fight this.”
Bailey’s fight over the next nine years was a personal one. A part of seeking care for his disease was accepting a heavy regiment of medication that would ultimately play a key role in his survival.
“I think at one point I was taking oh, maybe 24 pills per day,” Bailey said. “We’re talking eight pills every six hours.”
The medication complicated Bailey’s life in a number of ways.
“Psychologically it can break you down,” he said. “I had to convince myself if I wanted to live, I had to take them.”
Bailey was reluctant to be open about his health, largely because of the stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS.
“It can become a hostile environment if you’re not careful,” Bailey said. “You just don’t go around telling everyone you have AIDS.”
Bailey said his ultimate response was to shut himself off from the world. He likened isolation to nausea.
It was the year 2000 before Bailey felt comfortable speaking about his health.
“I was isolated for a long time, and I just got tired of it,” he said.
While applying for low-income housing, Bailey came across a unique opportunity: the Allen Temple Manor, one of the nation’s first federally funded housing communities for people with HIV.
Bailey became the apartment complex’s building manager and one of its first tenants.
“They rolled out the welcome mat for me and I wanted to give something back,” Bailey said.
Most of the work he does revolves around the ministry’s support of the Mother of Peace Orphanage in Zimbabwe, which provides resources for children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Bailey’s work with the ministry takes him to Zimbabwe twice a year.
It was around this time Bailey decided to go back to college. In the fall of 2001 he enrolled at SF State. He became active in SF State’s AIDS Coordination Committee, a fellow at the Black AIDS Institute’s African HIV University, and is a recent recipient of SF State’s Kolb Scholarship.
Bailey added, “It’s a miracle that I’m here today, and whatever work has been done needs to continue after my life on this earth.”
Despite the fact that medications for and awareness of HIV/AIDS have improved, according to some in Bailey’s environment, treatment of HIV/AIDS and its place in society still have a ways to go, especially within the black community.
UNAIDS reported in its 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update that between 2001 and 2004, half of AIDS diagnoses were among African-Americans.
It is a lack of awareness and lingering fear of HIV/AIDS, Scott said, that stigmatize and contribute to the spread of the disease within black communities.
“Testing is of extreme importance,” Scott said after explaining that 46 percent of blacks with HIV don’t know their positive status.
“Black men already carry a label, and to add something to it like a disease is a worst fear,” Bailey said. “It strips you of your coolness. I’m not cool anymore because I have HIV.”
One of the reasons there are still misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, Bailey said, is because “Even though there’s a lot of knowledge, it’s only there if you ask for it -- it’s not readily available.”
Scott and Wilson agree this problem could be solved if physicians regularly discussed HIV/AIDS with patients.
“Part of what we need to understand is that there’s less of a basis for fear,” Scott said. “It’s not a death sentence like it used to be.”
Scott said the most effective way to ensure a long life and help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in any community is to follow three steps: get tested, if one tests positive then go into care, and finally to take all medication as prescribed.
For more information about HIV/AIDS, appointments can be made with a health educator at SF State’s Student Health Services.
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