Column/Help those with AIDS, while there’s still time

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 21, 2006

My uncle Dewayne and I were born a month apart. (I’m older).

When we were kids, we spent a lot of time playing together. He’d stay at our house – out in the country – or we’d play in the kudzu-filled ditch behind my grandparents’ house in a subdivision called Sunset Hills off Airport Boulevard in Mobile.

As most of us remember our childhood, it was an innocent, fun time filled with baseball games, Kool-Aid, fishing trips and Popsicles. A great life.

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As we got older, as often happens, we went our separate ways. I headed off to college, Dewayne went to work and moved away from home.

After that, we saw each other only once or twice a year – at holidays, or the occasional funeral.

In February 2000, Dewayne moved back home to Mobile, and lived with my aunt. He was sick. He had been ill for some time.

But Dewayne was self-employed – he had a floor-cleaning service – and because health insurance was so expensive, he wasn’t covered.

So he never was diagnosed, or received treatment.

By the time he moved back to Mobile, his health had declined to a critical point. My aunt immediately got him in to see doctors, and he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.

An AIDS support group in Mobile helped him with free medication. He also was able to get on disability and Medicaid, which helped with his regular trips to the doctor and what ultimately became longer and longer stays in the hospital.

There has been a lot of progress in the treatment of AIDS. More patients are living longer, and the sooner they get on medication, the better their chance of having some quality of life.

But, Dewayne started treatment too late.

He died in June 2000, just four months after he had come home. He was two months shy of his 36th birthday.

There are many things that frustrate me about his death. One is the fact that if he’d gotten diagnosed sooner, maybe he would have lived longer.

Health insurance, or the lack thereof, was the big issue there. According to, there are approximately 17 million people in the South who are uninsured. That number should be unacceptable to not only the citizenry, but to our elected leaders.

The social stigma of being diagnosed with AIDS also kept Dewayne from coming forward sooner.

With the loss of loved ones, we should be able to get past that social stigma and just help people who are sick.

There is an increase in the number of AIDS cases in the South, even here in Dallas County where there have been 10 new cases reported this past year.

The largest increase is in rural, African-American women – heterosexuals.

The Selma AIDS Information & Referral has close to 100 clients in our area, out of a total of 172 reported cases just in Dallas County. (AIR covers an eight-county region).

The agency has needs – for more funding, hospice care and temporary housing.

The lesson I learned – we should reach out to those who need help while we still have a chance to make a difference.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.