Happy Birthday to Dab the AIDS Bear
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Saturday and it is also Dab the AIDS Bear's 34th birthday. We hope you are having a beary safe and great start to your weekend so far.
On March 21, 1981; I had the nurse give a teddy bear I bought to my best friend who was in the quarantine ward at San Francisco General Hospital.
Back in 1981 when I had friends starting to die from AIDS, the hospitals wouldn't allow visitors into the patient's room until 1983 and much later in other cities. GRID (what HIV was originally called) was considered reason to quarantine people with this new illness because they were afraid of this new disease and were not sure how the virus was passed. Because of this, people were usually close to death and had at least one opportunistic infection when they were diagnosed and hospitalized.
You could see even seasoned health care professional recoil in fear and not wanting to touch the patients. Even close friends were hesitant or scared to visit their friends in the hospital. Several friends and my first partner were dying without the comfort of human touch as they suffered during their final hours.
So I started buying Gund teddy bears and giving them to friends so they would not have to feel so alone, abandoned and afraid. That is how Dab the AIDS Bear was created.
I would personalize the bear to something I knew about them. From personal experience, nothing is worse than being in the hospital and being scared when you think you are going to die.
When people were admitted to the hospital then, they rarely made it outside of the hospital alive again. Even in the later 80s when the first HIV medications started becoming available, the medications only bought someone several months. Some longer, some shorter and most had debilitating side effects and greatly diminished quality of life. But there were no other options then to keep yourself alive. AIDS before 1996 for most was a death sentence.
When the red HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon became the symbol for HIV and AIDS, I started adding the new ribbon to the bears when I would give them as gifts to my friends dying due to this horrible virus. The universal appeal of bears brings smiles to even the sickest child or adult and are a symbol of strength and comfort for all ages. So it was my way on holding them since I could not be with them in person.
Dab the AIDS Bear received his name by my god daughter, Candace, who was one of the first children born with HIV in the United States. She was also born deformed due to Alcohol Fetal Syndrome so her mouth was not shaped normally. When she tried to call me Dad, it always sounded like Dab. My partner and friends thought it was so cute so they all started calling me Dab and the bears I gave to friends started being called Dab the AIDS Bear. Unfortunately, Candace passed in 1989 at age 5 because we did not have life saving HIV medications then and she also had many other health problems.
In 1997, I designed another HIV awareness bear and massed produced it. The Dab the AIDS Bear was wholesaled in various specialty retail stores across the country. The reason I came out with another bear at that time was the funds to the AIDS organizations were being cut and services such as massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and nutrition counseling among others were canceled because of the government budget cuts to the Ryan White Act. Treatments that helped people with HIV/AIDS deal with the side effects from the medications and the illness itself were no longer available through public assistance programs.
Dab the AIDS Bear has met many young people under 25 that are already positive as we travel across the country doing our Teddy Bear Touchdowns for children with HIV and AIDS around the world along with my appearances at events, conferences, AIDS Walks, AIDS rides, health fairs etc. doing HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention. These young people represent all races, all economic backgrounds, all religious beliefs, all sexual orientations because NO ONE is immune. It's not like the virus is going to ask you questions before infecting you.
Dab the AIDS Bear has also met with many 50+ citizens who are now finding out they are HIV positive through my work with AARP as an advocate and spokesperson. Many did not get tested and find out until their immune systems are depleted and they have one or more opportunistic infections. Too many are DYING because they didn't know their status in time so they could begin HIV treatment.
Dab the AIDS Bear is also an advocate for financially challenged Americans with HIV and AIDS who are placed on AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waiting lists. He has held over 8000 American men, women and children as they lost their war with AIDS. An American man, woman or child should never have to die because they can not afford the life saving HIV medications. Too many Americans died before 1996 when HARTT treatment and protease inhibitors were released making it possible for most to live with this virus.
Dab the AIDS Bear travels around the globe as it nears it's 32th birthday continuing to spread a 31 year message of love, hope and compassion for people living with HIV and AIDS. You can find Dab the AIDS Bears at AIDS Walks, AIDS cycles, conferences, health fairs, public events, women's events and fund raisers.
Many of our Ambassadors of Hope and myself even take the bear on vacations with us. You never know where you might see Dab the AIDS Bear in your city or at an event. If you do, please walk up, say hello and have your picture taken with the bear in support of people living with HIV and AIDS and help prevent new HIV infections. We have over 800,000 pictures taken with Dab the AIDS Bear since 1981.
But most of all, I am humbled by all the love Dab the AIDS Bear and I receive from people around the world. What started out as a gesture of love to others has been returned 1000x over.
Hope you have a beary safe and great Saturday!
Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,
Daddy Dab and Dab the AIDS Bear