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HIV & Me: Survival, Overcoming & Living a Meaningful Life By Tom Ufert

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Author’s Note: Originally this article was written for the Kojokrom.blog out of Ghana.  Considering Divine Magazine’s readership and international outreach for LGBTQ issues I thought this was an appropriate submission for my column Politics Today.  As the only openly gay U.S. Presidential candidate in 2016 who is also a 24-year survivor of HIV I consider it a moral imperative to address this issue honestly and with complete transparency.

hiv20awarenessPerhaps the greatest threat to today’s younger LGBTQ generation is the lack of perspective they have about AIDS/HIV.  This global pandemic does not stare them boldly in the face with daily funerals or the trauma of having to watch friends/loved ones shrivel before their eyes.  Modern pharmaceutical advances and improved treatment regimens have virtually made this plague a seemingly minor physical inconvenience.  NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH!

While those of us who have survived the 1980s & 1990s scourge upon our community have been blessed by these medical miracles, it is morally incumbent upon us to set the record straight.  Today’s improvements are solely due to the fact that our particular strains of HIV have been successfully identified for treatment.  However the disease continues to mutate and the strains today’s young people become infected by are increasingly immune to therapy and/or prescription drugs.  Reckless and or promiscuous sexual behavior based upon the fallacy of “No worries, if I catch it I’ll just take a pill” is dangerous and naïve.

Yes, it is true that I’ve survived 24 years and my HIV is “non-detectable.”  However, the devastation this disease reeks upon one’s life is real and life altering.  We “old fogies” must deliberately and incessantly educate/guide young people.  For safety sake assume that every sexual partner you climb into bed with has HIV!  Yes, you can more confidently expect to live a long productive life today if you contract HIV.  However, there is no guarantee and it will most definitely wreck your life!  Ask yourself if you’re willing to risk decades of pills, doctor’s visits, potential hospital stays, changes in diet, loss of employment, social ostracization and even death for a few minutes/hours of unsafe sex?  That is the REAL LESSON we must be sharing!

quotes-about-life-struggles-inspirational-quotes-about-life-overcoming-obstacles-struggle-71637I want readers to come away from this article with three important reactions:

  • You Are Not Alone
  • You Will Survive
  • Your Adversity Gives Hope To Others

I approached Kojokrom after reading Celebrities with HIV to offer my story as another case study of surviving HIV with dignity and promise for the future.  Now I must admit that in no way do I consider myself a “celebrity” in the commonly accepted sense.  Tom Ufert isn’t a star athlete, pop movie or music icon or even a well-known figure.  However, as a declared 2016 U.S. Presidential candidate there is some degree of respected notoriety that demands I speak out on the subject of HIV.

Stand-for-Others-picSince 1992, I have lived with three different life altering disabilities:  Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incomplete spinal fracture and HIV.  On Memorial Day (May 25th, 2015) I declared my Independent candidacy for the American presidency.  From the beginning, I was open and honest about my physical challenges, especially HIV.  My goal was to demonstrate that none of these or the stigmas that are commonly associated with being “crippled” could discourage me or for that matter, should impede anyone from living a meaningful life of purpose.

Everyone who knows me will testify that these adversities do not define me.  On the contrary, they strengthen me!  My first book, Adversity Builds Character, says it all.  I wrote “Life is as life is.  You either accept it or change it, but sitting around complaining about it doesn’t do anyone any good—especially you!”  (http://bit.ly/ABC1stEdonAmazon)  To be honest, my positive attitude didn’t come easily, and I can only credit this transformation as one of divine inspiration.  God has always been by my side, though my life is proof that I strayed from His love and guidance.  That fact is something I’m sure many of us can relate to.  The point is that despite my own failures, there was a higher purpose meant for my life.

Regardless of your life circumstances, I want you to know that HIV isn’t the end.  I’m living proof that the human spirit can overcome just about any adversity.  It all depends on your attitude and perspective.  Do you really care about your family, friends and loved ones?  Do you really care about your community?  Do you really care about the world you live in and your fellow human beings?  PROOVE IT!  HIV is an opportunity to show that your life has meaning!  HIV is YOUR opportunity to show the world and your fellow man that YOU STAND FOR SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOURSELF! 

Life is hard.  Giving up and giving in betrays the natural human instinct to survive.  Just think of every person in your life that you’ve touched and have touched you.  Then multiply that number by how many years you are expected to live.  I have survived 24 years with HIV and am projected to live a full life expectancy.  I challenge each of you to add another 24 years to your age right now.  Then multiply that by the number of people who you’ve encountered and calculate the direct impact you will have in the world today.  Isn’t that promise of positive change worth living for?

hiv-stigma-2YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

As you can see from the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics at the right, you’re not alone in this fight to live a full and purposeful life.  With advances in treatment and prescription medicines, your chances of living with and surviving HIV have dramatically improved.  In 2011 pop music icon/AIDS activist Bono of internationally acclaimed rock band U2 set about a worldwide media tour to promote astounding news—“The Beginning Of The End Of AIDS.”

In 2003, only a few hundred thousand people outside of the U.S. were being treated for AIDS/HIV.  By 2011, that number had increased to 6 million globally.  By mid-2015, that number had increased to 15.8 million.  Increased dissemination of life-saving retro-viral medications, increased educational outreach, and medical assistance programs that help with male circumcision or HIV detection testing throughout Africa have given worldwide activists like Bono the hope to say “We can now see the first stages of an AIDS-free generation.” (Sources:  http://www.who.int/features/qa/71/en/ & http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/01/bono-on-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-aids/)

Victim_inside_bannerYou Will Survive!

Trust me. I know all too well that being diagnosed with HIV seems like a death sentence.  After being diagnosed with MS in August 1992 and then suffering an incomplete spinal fracture from a car accident on September 28th, 1992, it might have seemed like my life was over.  However, it wasn’t until a diagnosis of HIV one month later in October of 1992 that real depression set in.  Now I realize that my circumstances, living in the United States where medical treatment and medicines are certainly more easily available, are a far cry from those struggling in other countries.  However, one’s personal outlook and mental attitude are the primary sources of conquering every adversity.  If I can do it so can you!  You have to have hope, faith in a higher purpose and believe in yourself.

As this article so aptly demonstrates, in today’s world with the internet and a vast global assistance community of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) help is there.  Worldwide attention on how AIDS/HIV has scourged the African continent’s population has significantly increased your opportunities for living a long, productive life.  The very week I contacted Kojokrom about the blog article, their website had received 80,000 visitors from just the United States.   YOU MUST NOT GIVE UP HOPE!

overcoming-adversityYour Adversity Gives Hope to Others!

Now Kojokrom initiated this blog and highlighted the hopeful promise for others in a large part because they lost two family members to this terrible affliction.  Thirty-five years after the first diagnosed cases of AIDS/HIV and nearly 40 million funerals later there is hope.  Patients like me are living longer, and the annual fatalities have dropped dramatically.  Yet this global plague is far from over.  That’s where you and I can play a major part towards the end of this human tragedy.

As I write this article preparations are already underway for me to travel to nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Throughout the year, I and literally thousands of my friends/colleagues regularly come together to raise funds for local AIDS charities throughout North America.  As the ONLY U.S. Presidential candidate afflicted with HIV and openly championing causes to help others with AIDS/HIV, I’m doing my part to use my voice and live a meaningful life of purpose.  What Are You Doing?

We live in a time when EVERY VOICE COUNTS!  If you are unfortunate to be afflicted by this gruesome global plague or have been directly impacted by the loss of a loved one/friend struck down by AIDS/HIV I send you my sincere and heartfelt thoughts and prayers.  For the sake of today’s victims far worse off than ourselves and future generations throughout the world, sitting on the sidelines as casual observers is not an option!

Those of us infected with HIV have to ask ourselves SHALL WE PLAY THE ROLE OF VICTIM OR ADVOCATE?  Long ago my “adopted” family taught me that the greatest way to face my own troubles was to help others.  In essence, that is the greatest virtue taught by every religion on earth—charity towards our brothers and sisters.  I know that doing for others is tough when your own life is so hard beset with illness and grief.  I’ve been there my friends.  From the very depths of my heart and soul, I tell you this—your down trodden spirit will know no greater cure than the tears of gratitude that flow incessantly from one in need you’ve helped despite your own suffering.

Gratefully and sincerely submitted to Kabie at mykojokrom@gmail.com

=== PLEASE VISIT AND SUPPORT THIS WEBSITE http://kojokrom.com/ ===

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