Thousands join AIDSWALK Fund-raising event began in 1988

June 07, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

The handsome, dark-haired young man smiled for the camera on a sunny day in October 1990, although he already knew.

Less than a year later, Bob Fabiszak was dead of AIDS at 31. Yesterday he, too, joined the crowd of thousands in the sixth annual AIDSWALK in North Baltimore as his mother carried his photograph on a sign along the route.

"He's walking with us today, I know that," said Alice Johnson of Ellicott City. "That's for sure. He and a lot of other kids."

The sign bore two smaller photographs -- one of her son's lover, Rob Elwood, who died last year on the first day of spring, at age 39, and the other of her son's roommate, Dean Cook, who died in October. He was also 39.

All three men were alive when Ms. Johnson made her first AIDSWALK in June 1991. Bob Fabiszak, a production manager for HBO in New York City, was diagnosed with AIDS in May 1990, and died in September 1991. Thousands have died since. And thousands have walked.

"I just kind of feel like my son left me something to do," Ms. Johnson said. "He wasn't finished. I'll just do what I can. . . . Everyone who is here today is here for one purpose. And they care."

The organizers of the march, the Health Education Resource Organization, or HERO, said 10,000 people walked the 3.5-mile route yesterday morning through the tree-lined streets of the Guilford and Tuscany/Canterbury neighborhoods. Andy Barasda, HERO's executive director, said the walk raised $400,000 to be used for the Maryland organization's educational and community service programs.

According to HERO's figures, the walk has attracted more people and raised more money each year, starting with 600 walkers and $65,000 in 1988.

"What's interesting to watch is how the walks have changed," said Mr. Barasda, of Baltimore. In 1988, the march attracted mostly gay and lesbian people. As the disease has spread and broadened its reach, the walk has drawn a wider following: whites, blacks, gays, straights, families, sponsorship of churches, corporations, organized labor.

"It makes it clear people are beginning to realize this is not just a disease that affects certain groups," Mr. Barasda said.

They came yesterday with children in strollers and leading dogs by leashes. They came in wheelchairs. They carried signs, banners and balloons. They carried memories.

Marion Washington of Baltimore remembered her youngest brother, Alexander Washington, who died in his sleep on Thanksgiving morning, 1991. The family did not ask how he contracted AIDS, but gathered around to care for him as best they could in the last months.

AIDS funds doubled

"I learned the meaning of the slogan, 'Fight AIDS, don't fight people with AIDS,' said Ms. Washington, who munched corn chips and sipped from a water bottle as she walked.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was there to proclaim a day in honor of AIDSWALK and to report that the city's allotment of federal AIDS funds under the Ryan White program had been nearly doubled this year to $3.2 million. The money is used for health care, counseling, food services and hospice care, said Brenda Pridgen, city AIDS coordinator.

Baltimore's eligibility for such help is a measure of the scope of the city's problem, as only cities with 2,000 or more diagnosed AIDS cases qualify for help under the Ryan White program. Ms. Pridgen said 3,000 AIDS cases have been confirmed in Baltimore, more than half the Maryland total of 5,000 people now living with the disease. Both are conservative figures, she said.

A health emergency

"It's a public health emergency, but it's not being treated like one. It's never been treated like one," said Dr. Sam Westrick, a Baltimore family practitioner who has joined AIDSWALK every year since 1988.

"Unfortunately, I don't think we've seen the crest of the wave yet," said Dr. Westrick, who treats hundreds of patients who have AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS in his practice. "I think we can expect to see many more people ill and dying in the coming decade than we have before."

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