June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011

The 10,000 Graves of Dab The AIDS Bear

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and we have almost made it through the middle of another work week. I hope you are having a safe and great week so far.

Yesterday, I was alerted about another article about Dab the AIDS Bear in the South Florida Gay News magazine. The following is the story by author Bob Adams:

You will recognize the faraway look in the beautiful eyes of Dab Garner. You have seen it in the eyes of young veterans returning to a civilian world with haunting memories and the deeply etched experience of death not shared by their contemporaries who have been spared the hardship of battle and allowed to enjoy their youth. We each own a piece of Dabís life story, but few of us have survived the enormity of the early onslaught of HIV/AIDS that overtook him as a teenager, and derailed what might have been a comfortable life as a promising young model, newly gay-minted and living in San Francisco with a man he loved. Fewer still have used their personal misfortune to achieve so much good in the lives of the victims of HIV/AIDS. The story of the creator of DabTheAidsBearProject.com is difficult to compress. Dab, a teenager discovered by a photographer scout on the beach of Pensacola, Florida, hid his real age, 16, from the man who became his mentor and lover and flew to San Francisco monthly to be with him until three days after his high school graduation when he moved permanently to the west coast. His lover, a man in his early 20s, had assumed Dab was graduating from college. In 1980, at the age of 18, a close friend is quarantined with a new and mysterious disease. Unable to be in the same room with him, Dab got his friend a teddy bear from a gift shop so that he would not feel so isolated as he died. Dabís lover soon became ill and for ten days, Dab kept vigil from the far side of the glass window of a quarantined hospital room. A kind nurse named Vicki allowed another teddy bear to link Dab and his lover. At the age of 19, Dab found himself arranging the memorial service for his lover and dealing with his loverís family who claimed all his assets and possessions.

Within weeks, Dab himself became HIV-positive and learned what it felt like to await death in isolation in 1982 as one of the first to have been diagnosed with what was then called GRID. He survived while most others died. Dab has one half of the chromosome needed for immunity. In addition to gene structure, cell receptors constitute the second front for defense against HIV, and when the disease was new and killing swiftly, there was no knowledge of receptors and certainly no medications to block them. At one point Dab had only four T cells and named them after the people closest to him, including the baby girl for whom he became foster parent during the 4.5 years of her life.

Born to an HIV-positive prostitute, who died soon after giving birth, facially deformed and with fetal alcohol syndrome, the baby girl desperately needed Dab who remembers that even the nurses in the hospital ignored her, assuming she would soon die. Dab, then 23 and with a new partner, would make Christmas special for their goddaughter, shopping for presents throughout the year. When she died in summer, they already had a pile of Christmas gifts for her, and that is how Dabís initiative for pediatric AIDS victims came to be.

Dab eventually relocated to south Florida because it has the highest new HIV infection rate in the country. He remembers a time when men who died from HIV were incinerated at the hospital because funeral homes would not take the bodies. When he was diagnosed with HIV on Valentineís Day of 1982, he was told he would not live to see his March birthday. He estimates the number of friends and associates he has lost to HIV/AIDS to be 10,000.

Dab the AIDS Bear Project has become a grassroots project of concerned citizens joined together to raise HIV awareness, education and prevention. The project has three wishes: Increased funding for the Ryan White Care Act and ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program), Health Care for all Americans, and a cure for HIV/AIDS.

There are so many ways to become involved in Dabís work and to learn more about the admirable life of the longest living San Francisco AIDS survivor.

Visit DabTheAIDSBearProject.com for more information.

To see the story go to: http://www.southfloridagaynews.com/news/spirit-hiv-aids-news/3955-the-10000-graves-of-dab-the-aids-bear.html

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

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab