A Red Ribbon Day!

By Nancy Black

My mouth dropped open in disbelief on Tuesday as I worked at my desk while listening to the national evening news. Especially because the tone of voice of the anchor was so calm and nonchalant, like what he was reporting was no big deal.

“A woman was cured of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS,” he announced.

“What?” I said out loud. Cured? The anchor was on to the next story before I could even process what he said.

After I closed my mouth, I got really sad. The memories of all my friends in Hollywood who died of AIDS during the ’80s and ’90s started rushing through my mind. 

Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to dictionaries.

First, there was Gary, a paralegal from the law office where I worked. He died very quickly after being diagnosed with HIV. Then my acting teacher, Edward Kaye-Martin. Ed was a force to be reckoned with. All the top actors at the time longed to study with him, and I actually got to. I also watched him die a horrible death. By the time he was hospitalized, he was a pale, skin and bones version of the great man he once was. The worst part, though, was that he was hospitalized during the first months of what would soon become of a global pandemic. In those early days, the doctors and nurses were afraid to even touch those infected. Hospital floors dedicated to AIDS were overflowing with dying patients, mostly men. 

Tony and Richard were my best friends. We’d known each other from our days at The Studios at Las Colinas, where we all worked in the film industry. They moved to Hollywood about a year before I did and, once I moved there, our friendship grew stronger than ever. 

Richard was diagnosed with AIDS first, but it wasn’t long before Tony started showing symptoms, too. I remember calling an ambulance for him one time and the paramedics arrived wearing hazmat suits. They doubled their latex gloves as they assessed my friend and then refused to transport him to the nearest hospital. Richard and I had to drive him to a county hospital in Simi Valley, a long way from where we were, because that’s where they were sending all the AIDS patients. 

Remarkably, Tony outlived Richard. Once his T-cell count started to drop, Richard faded fast. Tony was able to receive the early treatments for HIV/AIDS, which prolonged his life a couple of years. But he died from the disease, too. 

To think finally, after more than 30 years, researchers and doctors have at last found a cure for AIDS is astounding. 

According to Reuters, a female HIV patient who was getting stem cell (cord blood) to treat her acute myeloid leukemia ended up going into remission and is now free from the HIV virus.

“This is now the third report of a cure in this setting, and the first in a woman living with HIV,” Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said in a statement.

She added: “The report confirms that a cure for HIV is possible and further strengthens using gene therapy as a viable strategy for an HIV cure.” 

Even before this exciting development, there had been great strides in treating people with HIV. Antiretroviral therapy (ART), while not being able to cure HIV, can control it. Unlike those awful, early days, people are mostly living with HIV rather than quickly dying from it. But, hopefully soon, no one will even need to live with it.

It’s a red ribbon day, indeed!