Friday, August 26, 2011

J Edward Shaw Part I

A couple of weeks ago I met Ed Shaw who is quite a unique man. There is so much to say about him that I decided to write two articles about him. I will tell you about Ed's past and how he got to where he is today; later I will focus more on his activism and volunteer work.
A Long Time Survivor
Ed Shaw was diagnosed with HIV in August 1988, at the age of 47. During that period he had a lot of acquaintances and friends that were hospitalized, so he decided to take an HIV test. He did not know much about the virus. During the 80s HIV was seen as a "white gay men disease". Ed felt he had nothing to worry about. Two weeks after getting tested, he found out he was HIV positive. The news felt like a death sentence; he never thought in his wildest dreams that he would live passed the age of 48. Little did he know; today he is 70 years old and has lived with the infection for more than two decades.
After learning his diagnosis, Ed shifted to what he calls "a panic mode". He lived in denial, ignorance and isolation. Ed took no medication, from between 1988-1993; his life was driven by drugs and alcohol abuse, a disease that impacts so many along with however promiscuity and other ill-conceived plans. He had given up on his life, spent all his savings and would not tell anyone about his HIV status. That destructive behavior ended when Ed was hospitalized in 1993. At the hospital he met a counselor who told him straight up he had AIDS. This incident opened up his eyes and he started asking questions. Slowly Ed started to build trust for the medical establishment and began to reeducate himself about the disease. This knowledge is something he has continued to share with others. Ed has spent a lot of time advocating for HIV/AIDS prevention. He told me that ever since he went to his first HIV meeting back in 1993; activism has been a constant and sustaining part of his life.
Aging with the Virus
Ed told me you have to make the right decisions in order to live a long life with the virus. He had to make a lot of changes in the way he was living. Importantly, his family and friends supported him. He said that it is very important not to give up, even when coping with HIV it feels very hard. Despite his busy schedule, he makes sure to take time off to enjoy life. He has found new interests and has replaced the things he cannot do anymore.
I asked Ed why he thinks there is a rise in HIV/AIDS diagnoses among older adults and seniors. Firstly, Ed thinks there are older adults who have HIV, but have not been diagnosed. The reason for this may be that many misdiagnosed signs of HIV/AIDS are the aches and pains of normal co-morbidities of aging. Older adults are less likely than younger people to get tested or for that matter use condoms. Older adults are also less likely than younger people to talk about their sex lives or drug use with their doctors. Doctors rarely test older people for HIV/AIDS and therefore may prescribe medications for an ageing morbidity as opposed to HIV medications. Furthermore, doctors are less likely to ask older patients about their risky sexual behavior and or drug use.
Beginning in 1993, HIV/AIDS awareness has been one of Ed's top priorities. Over the past 15 years he has spent hours and hours on activism and education. All though Ed has been targeting older adults and seniors through his volunteer work he thinks it is very important to be as inclusive as possible. "We are all in this together". He strongly believes in an inter-generational approach. "HIV affects everyone and does not discriminate against gender, race and ethnicity, or where one lives and of course age". Ed underlines the importance of reaching family members and making sure everyone hears the message about how to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Next week I will tell you more about some of Ed's current projects.

J Edward Shaw

Sanna Klemetti

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