By Richard Mactough
On Nov. 5, William Brawner shared with our campus his hard journey (so far) of living with AIDS for most of his life.
From Philadelphia, Brawner was a victim of abuse of at the hands of a trusted babysitter.
At 18 months old, he was thrown into a tub of scalding hot water, causing painful burns. The doctors gave him blood transfusions to help him heal, but Brawner learned years later that the man whose blood he received died from AIDS.
His doctor confirmed that Brawner was officially carrying the virus.
Netflix is streaming a documentary, “25 to Life,” that follows Brawner and the many challenges he has had to overcome.
At the time of his diagnosis, Brawner’s mother was anxious that her son would live only a couple more years. It was a time when there was no medication for the disease.
He started taking a drug called AZT, which was not yet widely tested on children.
It made him sick, but he is still living today.
Brawner explained that the keys to keeping himself in good health are working out, taking his medication, and eating nutritiously.
His mother advised him to keep his illness a secret. She said it was something many people did not understand. It was stigmatizing, and she feared the pursuit of a normal life for her son.
As he grew older, Brawner, like many young men, got involved with women. He was faced with the pressure of being laughed at for not losing his virginity.
It was something he tried to avoid for fear of infecting another person. Eventually, he did start having sex, and refused to tell anyone of his diagnosis.
Brawner had a girlfriend before college. They both loved each other, but the relationship faded away once he went to his university. She still loved him in some way, and promised to keep his secret of having AIDS.
One day, the university president called Brawner into his office. He slipped the young man a note.
It was an e-mail from his ex-girlfriend which read, “William Brawner has AIDS, and is infecting the entire school.” Luckily, no one other than the president ever found out.
For so much of his life, Brawner denied his illness. He created an alter ego called “Reds.”
“It was like I almost forgot it,” Brawner said.
By the time he graduated from college, though, he decided it was time to come to terms with his illness.
He announced his disease on radio stations, to previous partners and to family.
He disclosed with most of his partners. Some took the news well, but others did not.
His friends called him up cheering him on.
Amongst all the support, though, Brawner began to get more phone calls from angry brothers claiming they were in front of his house. He was in danger, revealed all over Myspace and in other school newspapers.
Today he runs a support group in Philadelphia for teenagers living with HIV/AIDS.
His two children were fortunately born without the virus, and none of his partners ever got the disease.
“Most people don’t even know they are infected, you need to get tested,” Brawner explained, urging the crowd to be careful.
Though they do not administer HIV tests, the Flagler-Metzgar Health Center on campus provides referrals and other STD tests.
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