When there was no Paul Kirby Fund

I don't know what it's like to be a person struggling to live with HIV/AIDS.  What I do know about, and recall painfully, is what it's like to be a person trying her best to offer support to someone with a new diagnosis of AIDS.

In 1985, a friend with a new diagnosis of AIDS came to live with me, because he had no other resources.  Unable to maintain his own place, and essentially unwanted by his family, he would have been on the street after barely surviving a serious bout of pneumocystis pneumonia.  Since he already had some significant neurological changes, he wasn't the easiest person to deal with, and most of his friends had taken a step back.

The first thing that happened was that his health insurance was cancelled.  They claimed that he must have had AIDS when he took out the policy, so it was a pre-existing condition.  So none of the hospital or doctors' bills were paid. It took months to convince the insurer that a diagnosis happens when it is made, and not retrospectively.  Eventually they paid.

Then the follow-up doctors' visits started, and without any coverage, continuing care depended on coming up with funds before the disability payments kicked in.  Money wasn't just tight, it was almost nonexistent.  I know what it was like to be unable to afford gasoline, and spending most of some days riding the bus back and forth across San Antonio to multiple doctors' offices.  I well recall having to rely on less healthy foods, because more nutritious foods were too expensive, and it was often necessary to decide which prescription was the most essential to fill.

The worst thing I remember though, is being promised AZT and hoping it would help, but being unable to come up with the co-payments.  I'll never forget the look of hope on his face when he finally got to take the first of the AZT prescription.  Of course, it was too late.

In 1985, there was nothing like the Paul Kirby Fund in San Antonio -- really no help of any kind to be had.  The stress of that time between diagnosis and receiving benefits was literally a killer.  I volunteer with the Octopus Club now, because I don't want anyone to ever have to go through that stress, again.  I don't ever want anyone to have the hope of life-saving drugs snatched away by the inability to pay, or lack food because of the expense.  I did everything I could do for my friend, but it wasn't enough.  I'm so grateful for the Kirby Fund, and to Lew Aldridge for founding the Octopus Club to fund it, and to AIDS Services of Austin for administering it.  I consider it a great privilege to help.