Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Watch “Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS,” an AC360° special, at 9 p.m. ET Friday. Phill Wilson is the president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, a national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on black people. Follow him on Twitter.
(CNN) – I was infected with HIV in 1981, the year the disease was discovered.
Back then, most people died in six to 12 months from horrible diseases like Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer normally found in older men of Semitic descent; pneunocystis carinii pneumonia, a fungal infection in the lungs; cryptococcal meningitis, which causes the lining of your brain to swell; or toxoplasmosis: You got that from cat feces, and it turned your brain to Swiss cheese.
There were no treatments, really. A “long-time survivor” was someone who lived 18 months.
I was 24 then. In April, I will celebrate my 54th birthday.
I almost didn’t make it. In 1996, my doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles called my mother in Chicago to tell her that if she wanted to see me alive again, she should fly to Los Angeles immediately. They had given me less than 24 hours to live. I was in a coma in the ICU.
I eventually came out of that crisis, and my doctor prescribed something brand new: a three-drug regimen, commonly referred to as “the cocktail.” I recovered from that crisis and went on to found the Black AIDS Institute, an organization I still lead.
What a difference three decades can make. We have gone from no drugs to a few very toxic drugs that didn’t really work to more than 25 antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV. The new drugs are highly effective, and the side effects are much reduced.
Greater Than AIDS– a new national movement to respond to AIDS in America– is asking Americans to share their “Deciding Moments,” personal experiences that changed how they think about the disease and inspired them to get involved. For many it is someone close to them who was infected. For some it was their own diagnosis. For others it was a realization that we all have a role to play. Tell us about your “Deciding Moment” by visiting: www.greaterthan.org/moment.
Related: Visit Greater Than AIDS for answers to frequently asked questions about HIV/AIDS, as well as information about local testing centers.