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Yearbook: AIDS first-hand in 1985

This article shared 8592 times since Wed Sep 21, 2005
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Chicago sees the devastating impact of AIDS first-hand in 1985, as deaths related to AIDS continue to climb.

Pictured NAMES quilt panel for Chicago Gay Men's Chorus members at the 1988 Quilt display in Chicago at Navy Pier. Photo by Tracy Baim. June 1988 photo of the Kupona Network by Greg Elin, from left: Tim Offut, Archie Williams, Sharon Chalmers, Leon White, and Edyth Z. Snyder. Kupona, now defunct, helped African Americans with AIDS. Left: Rev. Jesse Jackson at an AIDS home in San Francisco. Photo by Darlene. Right: At a late 1980s forum on AIDS in the Black and Latino communities, from left: Dr. Lonnie Edwards, Chicago Dept. of Health Commissioner; Dr. Johnnie Hill, VP for student affairs, Chicago State U.; Dr. Renslow Sherer, heading Cook County's AIDS efforts; and Cook County Commissioner ( now board president ) John Stroger. Left: Controversial AIDS researcher Robert Gallo in 1991. Photo by Rex Wockner. Right photo: Marlon Riggs ( died 1994 ) and Essex Hemphill ( died 1995 ) were two of the most prominent members of the African American gay community to die of AIDS complications. This photo is from the promotion of Riggs' film Tongues Untied.

The Windy City Times reported on Oct. 17, 1985 that 315 AIDS cases had been recorded in Illinois through Sept. 27, 1985. Of those cases, 241 were from Chicago, and 132 Chicagoans had died.

Males, particularly gay males, were being hit the hardest. In Chicago, 170 gay and 31 bisexual males had been diagnosed. In September, 15 Chicagoans were diagnosed, 12 of which were gay men.

Windy City Times also reported that through Sept. 16, 13,228 individuals had been diagnosed nationally.

The Illinois Department of Public Health ( IDPH ) reports that through August of 2005, 32,319 Illinoisans have been diagnosed with AIDS since Jan. 1, 1981.

More than 15,400 in Illinois are currently living with the disease.

Sixty percent of the state's AIDS cases are transmitted via MSM contact.

Minority groups in Illinois have been struck by the disease. Blacks make up half of the state's AIDS cases, and 52 percent of HIV cases reported since July 1999, according to the IDPH.

Since July 1999, 13,999 HIV cases have been reported by the IDPH through August 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control ( CDC ) , at the end of 2003, an estimated 1,039,000 to 1,185,000 persons in the United States were living with HIV/AIDS, with 24-27% undiagnosed and unaware of their HIV infection. Roughly 524,000 people in the United States have died from AIDS through 2003, the CDC estimated.

AIDS: 1985 Statistics

— Nationally, more than 13,200 people had died from the disease, the Windy City Times reported in October of 1985.

— The U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved the first commercial AIDS blood test.

— Ryan White, a 13-year-old hemophiliac with AIDS, was barred from school.

— Chicago House was formed.

— The AIDS Foundation of Chicago was founded by Dr. Renslow Sherer, Dr. Ron Sable, William Young, and Judy Carter.

— The first international AIDS conference was held in Atlanta. The topics discussed included the new commercial blood test, the extent of heterosexual transmission, and the international situation.

— On Sept. 17, President Ronald Reagan mentioned the word 'AIDS' in public for the first time in response to reporters' questions. Reagan told reporters that more than $500 million had been spent trying to find ways to combat the disease.

— Although there were some treatment successes, individuals would often die within months of being diagnosed. However, Windy City Times reported on Oct. 10 that there were reports coming out of cities like Los Angeles of turnarounds utilizing the combination of two drugs, which some smuggled from Mexico into the U.S. The treatment had yet to be researched.

— On Sept. 25 of that year, military health authorities announced the likelihood of testing all military personal set for overseas duty to stem the spread of AIDS.

— At the time, the United States was the country hit the hardest by the epidemic, reported the Centers for Disease Control ( CDC ) .

— In October of 1985, the CDC reported the first cases of healthcare workers being exposed to the virus from job contact.

— Also in October, The New York Times reported that for the first time, captive rhesus monkeys had been infected with the disease.

— In the fall, a federal bathhouse measure was passed, allowing the U.S. Surgeon General to close down any bathhouse in order to help slow the spread of the virus.

— On Oct. 2, actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS, the first major public figure known to die of the disease.

— By 1985, AIDS had been reported in every region of the world.

Chicago House

Mass hysteria over HIV was still rampant in 1985, and gay men with the virus were being denied housing. Twenty years ago, a group of gay men met at the Baton to discuss a way to aid their HIV+ friends and find them housing. There, Chicago House, the Midwest's first provider of AIDS housing, was born.

Rev. Stan J. Sloan, current CEO of Chicago House, said that in 1985, getting non-profit status was difficult because of discrimination. The organization received its charter on Sept. 9. By February of 1986 the first resident moved in. 'In the years that followed, AIDS and AIDS charities moved from being shunned to being in the spotlight,' Sloan said, adding that federal funds and fundraising events brought visibility and resources. However, housing and AIDS organizations are currently facing an increasingly difficult funding environment.

Since 1985, Chicago House has had to evolve with advanced treatments and changing demographics, adding housing for families in 1992 and community case management in 1994 for people living in the organization's facilities and on their own. Residential programs are split between the straight and gay communities, and case management still largely serves North Side gay men. 'Tragically, we have noticed a new influx of young gay men in our programs as a result of crystal meth over the last year,' Sloan added.

Memories: Thom Dombkowski

Thom Dombkowski, co-founder of Chicago House: 'Back then, I was employed in a mid-level management position at the Midwest Regional Office of the Internal Revenue Service and my first partner and college sweetheart, Patrick Rossi, was dying of AIDS. He was among the first 100 cases to be diagnosed in Chicago and the time from his diagnosis to his death was short ( just eight months ) . I will always have the memory of him at the University of Illinois Hospital, waking from a coma, pulling out the IVs from his arms, and pleading 'Thomas, help me.'

'That was the first time I held a medical power of attorney. He survived that weekend, and died at home two months later. Patrick had been a vice-president at the 1st National Bank of Chicago. Despite his generous benefits package, it did not include home healthcare. We, his chosen family, cared for him.

'After his death on June 9, I met with several members of the community, including Jim Flint and Steve Wakefield, to discuss the need for housing and hospice care for people dying from AIDS. In Patrick's obituary in Gay Chicago Magazine, I called for a community meeting. At least 75 men and women came together. During that summer, we submitted a grant application for $93,000 in start-up funding from the City of Chicago; we also planned an aggressive fundraising [ campaign ] . The rest is history. Chicago House became one of the country's most successful housing and support services agencies. As for me, I'm still here, the sole HIV-positive survivor among the agency's founders.

'Someone asked me that summer what we would do with Chicago House when the AIDS cure was discovered. I opined that we would likely look to supportive housing for seniors. Sadly, the AIDS cure has not come —and there soon will be a growing need for senior housing for LGBTs.'

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Started in 1985 during the height of the AIDS epidemic, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) has grown tremendously and adjusted with the changes of the epidemic over the past two decades.

At the start, Executive Director Mark Ishaug said, AFC had a small staff of seven or eight people. Now the organization has a $17 million budget and roughly 40 staff members.

'We've remained true to our mission since day one,' said Ishaug. 'We tie the community together in the fight against AIDS.'

Ishaug said that in 1985, with no drugs, the system in Chicago was built to help people die. 'Now, we have fantastic pharmaceuticals and amazing primary care,' he said. 'However, there are still incredible challenges.' For example, many people believe that the epidemic is over, although the crisis is not in the U.S., he added.

'People think AIDS is just in Africa, but it's far from over.' He hopes that the model system of care that Chicago created will be replicated, and not dismantled, as budget cuts for AIDS continues across the country.

Jim Pickett

Jim Pickett, AIDS Foundation of Chicago: 'I was in my freshman year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I was very wild and the floodgates broke loose because I had just come out. It was all about shoulder pads, partying, multiple bangles, and [ a Flock of Seagulls-like ] haircut; I thought I was the best-dressed creature ever.

'I was not that cognizant about AIDS at that time. I do remember taking AIDS tests and waiting for a month to get the results. Every time I heard about an STD, I thought I had it; I even had that painful gonorrhea test. Until I tested positive, I got tested every six months. By 1987 or 1988 ( after I moved to Chicago ) , AIDS became a much bigger issue. You saw people die before your eyes.'

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