December 9, 2011

December 9, 2011

Dab the AIDS Bear in Florida Agenda

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Friday and we have almost made it through another work week. Hope you have been having a safe and great week so far. It has been a very busy one for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

We were surprised today to find a story on the cover of the Florida Agenda about our work. You can find the story at:

The following is a part of the article:

Dab Garner, if he didn’t already hold a place in the medical history books, would hold a place in history for the good he does for others.

Now in its 22nd year, Garner is bringing cheer to children suffering with HIV/AIDS during this holiday season through his “Dab the AIDS Bear” project.

In 1982, Garner became friends and godfather to a little girl affected with AIDS. In fact, she was the first little girl born in San Francisco with HIV. The child was an orphan and her mother died shortly after, then Candice, the little girl, was born. The mother did not know who the father was. To make matters worse, Candice was also born deformed.

Garner himself was diagnosed with HIV earlier in that year on Valentine’s Day and immediately became an activist. He went to the hospital where Candice was being taken care of and noticed how Candice was being cared for in the pediatric AIDS unit.

“It struck me how horrible it was that even the nurses in the ward would not pay attention to this little girl. As you can imagine in the ‘80s, nobody wanted a child with HIV much less a deformed one so my second partner and I became her godparents. Back then, as a gay couple, we couldn’t legally adopt her.”

Garner and his partner shopped all year for Christmas presents for Candice as Christmas was Candice’s favorite holiday.

Candice died when she was 4-1/2 years old in August. At her bedside, Garner promised the dying child that he would make other children like her feel loved and special.

Garner remembered that at the time, there were about a dozen other children with HIV in the San Francisco Bay area, so he and his partner divided up the toys he had already bought Candice and gave those to the other children. He also gave each and every one of them a teddy bear.

This gesture of kindness and caring for others started an organization that has grown exponentially. Garner explained that he started looking for other kids afflicted with HIV and every two years would add another city and added more children to his Christmas list – first Los Angeles; then New York. Twenty-two years later, Garner reaches out to 21 cities, both in the United States and abroad with his special brand of caring and love.

“Candice is the whole reason I do this,” Garner explained, “I’m keeping the promise I made to a dying little girl.”

How is Garner’s health having been diagnosed with GRID (what AIDS was referred to back then) in 1982? Garner is doing fine. He said that according to the National Institute of Health, he’s the third longest living survivor they know of still living with HIV/AIDS. He was also the first person in San Francisco to make it out of hospital quarantine alive.

“Back then,” Garner explained, “there were no privacy laws to keep [AIDS patients’ names] out of the newspapers or anyone from disclosing my HIV status so my name, picture and status were published in the newspaper. I never really had a choice whether I was going to be out concerning my HIV status – it just was. I was raised by parents that taught me to make the best of my situation and to help those less fortunate than myself.”

Garner said that back in 1985, then-President Ronald Regan wouldn’t even mention HIV or AIDS.

“In 1985,” he said, “several of us chained ourselves to the White House to get President Reagan just to say ‘HIV.’” He also explained that he was fortunate enough to work with Elizabeth Taylor and Senator Ted Kennedy to get Ryan White funding started.

Garner moved to South Florida just over a year and a half ago. “I moved down here because South Florida has the highest incidence of new HIV infections in the country,” he said.

Garner also works with the Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County health departments to help with their HIV prevention programs.

“For the most part, it’s been very, very positive,” said Garner when asked how his AIDS Bear project has been accepted. “I travel the world to about 120 to 150 events a year, speaking at AIDS walks, AIDS rides, HIV conferences , gay prides, women health fairs – just about to anyone who will put me behind a podium to help prevent the spread of HIV while helping those that are already infected.”

When Garner speaks, he tells people to get tested on a regular basis, not only for HIV but for other STDs. He explains that there are now medications to keep people alive. But he warns that it is important to be diagnosed while a person is still healthy because not only does it give you a better chance of living with HIV, but it also allow you to start medication while your T-cell count is higher, the lessening the side effects.

“The other major point I like to make,” said Garner, “is that in Florida and 13 other states, we have a waiting list to get assistance through ADAP (AIDS Drugs Assistance Program). I go to DC once a month and lobby for more funding because we have a waiting list of over 3,000 people in Florida and a total of 9,000 throughout the country. People can help just by picking up the phone or sending an email by contacting the elected officials.”

Hope you have a great weekend.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab