Virus changes course of 3 lives


August 08, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

The virus that causes AIDS creates havoc in the body and the spirit. But people infected with HIV still must get on with the day-to-day business of living.

Seven years after testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus, Charles Robinson, a hemophiliac, is looking for a computer programming job.

Douglas Garriott, an architect who became infected nearly a decade ago, channels his energy into directing a local organization that renovates or builds homes for the needy.

And Gwen Green, a former model and clothing store manager who tested positive for HIV more than six years ago, juggles raising two daughters and doing volunteer counseling for a local AIDS group.

Like these three Baltimore residents, an estimated 30,400 men, women and children in Maryland are infected with the immunodeficiency virus, according to the state AIDS Commission. That's more than three times the number of Marylanders who die each year from cancer.

About half of those who test positive for HIV develop acquired immune deficiency syndrome within 10 years. Many others, however, live a decade or longer before they begin to show signs of the fatal condition. HIV itself produces symptoms so "silent" or unnoticeable that some people may be unaware for years that they are infected.

Meanwhile, those who do know must try to get on with life, like everyone else: They work, play, make love, raise children, shop, travel -- and dream of the future.

Forced restructuring

Mr. Garriott, 51, was infected with HIV in the mid-1980s. For much of the time, the virus left him alone: He ran his Silver Spring architecture business; he vacationed with his sons in San Francisco; he went with his longtime companion to the Eastern Shore.

But little by little, HIV has been stealing from him. His lover. His job. His health.

In the past four years, the number of specialized, infection-fighting cells in Mr. Garriott's blood has dropped steadily. He's had a severe reaction to the anti-viral drug AZT, and bouts with thrush, a painful fungal infection of the mouth.

None of these symptoms means Mr. Garriott has AIDS. Still, he spends hours every week in various clinics or doctors' offices as a participant in four studies on HIV conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Chase-Brexton Clinic.

As a former U.S. Army specialist 5 who was stationed in Vietnam for 13 months, Mr. Garriott's regular medical care comes through the Veterans' Administration Hospital here. The studies give him access to experimental medicines or treatment that might stave off the onset of AIDS, he says.

And participating makes him feel that he has control over his health care. Unlike his lover, who refused to get tested until he was quite sick, Mr. Garriott says, "I don't want to wait to know what the virus is doing. I want to know. I want all this stuff to show me what's going on."

Most of the time, though, he's tired. Fatigue, caused by HIV, has become a nearly constant companion. "Sometimes it lasts three to four weeks, sometimes days," he says.

A wiry man who favors worn blue jeans, Mr. Garriott once was married and has two sons ages 24 and 26. At the time of his divorce in 1978, he told his ex-wife and children that he was gay, he says. Telling them, especially his sons, that he was HIV positive was more difficult.

"I stewed about it for a year," he says. Finally, one morning he took his youngest son, then 18, out to breakfast and blurted it out. "He was pretty upset, but I answered all his questions and told him to keep on asking questions," Mr. Garriott says.

In 1990, he closed his architecture firm in Silver Spring for reasons having to do with ethics.

His illness did not endanger colleagues, but he worried about not being able to complete projects.

He asks: "Is it ethical for me to go out and solicit work that might take me two years to finish? Is it honest?"

Moreover, his lover was pressuring Mr. Garriott to join him in Baltimore.

"Maybe he thought he was getting sick. Maybe he thought I was getting sick," Mr. Garriott says.

His lover died of AIDS last spring. They had been together since 1982.

Out of work, Mr. Garriott could no longer afford the Baltimore condo the men bought in 1985. He has moved to a federally subsidized apartment downtown.

From there he works to ensure that others in his position don't lose their homes.

He is president of Housing Unlimited Group (HUG), a coalition of medical and development professionals who try to provide housing to people with AIDS. The coalition recently signed a city contract to assess the housing needs of people with AIDS and develop a 10-year housing strategy.

"I can talk on the phone even if I don't feel well," Mr. Garriott says.

Hemophiliac's double burden

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