ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – World AIDS Day has been recognized since 1988, and serves as a time to reflect on the progress of medical research, to help end the stigma against AIDS, and to honor those who have lost their lives to the epidemic.
“Back then it was ‘the gay disease,’ and nobody cared because it was ‘the gay disease,'” said Kristofer Gerlach, a 25-year AIDS survivor.
Gerlach was diagnosed with AIDS in December of 1995.
“The first thought that went in my head was, ‘Well, at least I don’t have to worry about that anymore,'” said Gerlach.
And 25 years later, Gerlach has reflected on his journey with the disease.
“They didn’t have medication back then, you kind of got it and then you were going to die” said Gerlach.
Gerlach says he did not expect to make it to age 35.
“The excuse was, ‘Well, we’re going to die anyways, we might as well have fun,'” said Gerlach.
And after seeing his friends die from taking different medications, Gerlach refused therapeutics until 2008 when his doctor said his vitals dropped to a lethal level.
“He said, ‘If it goes below 12 you’re going to die,'” said Gerlach.
Gerlach says that even though people may know the term AIDS, there’s a lack of understanding between the younger generations.
“People don’t even understand it anymore, it’s been so long ago that kids today probably couldn’t even tell you how it works,” said Gerlach.
Something James Wagstaff, executive director of Big Country AIDS Resources agrees with.
“The resources, the education, the doctors are here, the science, everything is there so that this should not be transmitting,” said Wagstaff.
But over time, both say the culture has become complacent.
“To see another person walk in and get diagnosed just breaks my heart, because we know that that person did not educate themselves,” said Wagstaff.
“Back then it was urgent, it was. It was prevalent, it was in your face,” said Gerlach.
And by talking about AIDS and educating others—both Gerlach and Wagstaff hope to see change.