The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have been around for many years without a probable cure. HIV is a particular virus that weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight infection–T-cells and CD4 cells. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome occurs when your immune system becomes deficient. According to AIDS.gov, “AIDS is syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.”
Brryan Jackson, AIDS activist and survivor, began his presentation on Dec. 1 with a list of HIV Fun (Not Really) Facts. In Jackson’s slideshow, it was stated that 35 million people are infected with the virus, and around 3.3 million of these patients are under the age of 15. The only way to know if a person has the virus is to take a 20 minute, painless HIV test. And although the virus is not airborne, some of the population do not even know that they have it.
When most people think of a face for AIDS, they picture drug users, prostitutes, homosexual couples, etc. However, Jackson made it very clear that each and every human being could be considered a face of AIDS. There are no visible symptoms of AIDS. The destruction happens inside a person’s body, which is why people do not die from AIDS itself, but from related medical complications, including pneumonia.
Jackson was admitted into the hospital when he was eleven months old for a series of asthma attacks. Just before being released from the hospital, he received a surprise visit from his father, who had never been a significant part of his life. Brryan’s mother, exhausted and thirsty, left the father alone with his son to get a drink. When she returned, she found her baby boy crying hysterically.
Jackson’s father came to the hospital that day with a “grand plan.” He brought his lab coat along with him for the purpose of killing his son so that he could avoid paying child support. Brryan’s father injected him with HIV-tainted, incompatible blood before disappearing.
Soon, Jackson became bloated and feverish. He was tested for numerous diseases, when finally, the doctors made the decision to test Jackson for HIV. The test came back positive, as Jackson’s T-cell count was at zero.
Jackson’s family was told that he had five months to live. Yet he is now in his 20s, his virus is sustained, and he has been given a chance at life.
Jackson spoke at Western to tell his story, but also to raise awareness for the incurable, yet preventable virus.
Dana Heldenbrand, administrative coordinator for student development, said that Jackson’s story was brought to her attention by Mitzi Teliczan of the St. Joseph Health Department. The Center for Student Involvement was immediately interested in Jackson’s story, and thought that it would fit in well with the Standing in Your Truth series.
Jackson told the audience about his childhood experiences. He was not allowed to go to school for a period of time due to being HIV positive. Once Jackson was able to attend public school, he was assigned a specific bathroom and was unable to use the water fountains, participate in after school activities, or play sports.
Jackson said that he was “treated like a monster,” yet he realized that sharing his story with the world was more joyful than anything else he could have done.
Throughout the presentation, Jackson focused on how he did not want to be treated as a victim. What he wanted do was find a solution to his problem and figure out how to overcome it.
“I wish I could take away everyone’s pain,” Jackson said. “But where there’s pain, there’s gonna be gain.”
In Dec. 1998, Jackson’s father was convicted of first-degree assault and was given life in prison with possibility of parole.
Jackson stated that although he has not seen his father since that day in the hospital, and has no intentions of doing so, he chose to forgive him.
“I’m not going to let what he’s done define me,” Jackson said.
Heldenbrand said that Jackson did a wonderful job with his presentation. She also said that his story was “powerful.”
When asked how Jackson was chosen for the presentation, Heldenbrand had a strong answer.
“Who better than someone who has really embraced his past and is standing in his truth?” she said.
Even though Jackson’s HIV is currently undetectable, an audience member asked if he expected to come across any limitations in his life.
“I think I’m limitless,” Jackson said.