PORTLAND – Thursday was the country’s first National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day and a handful of people with HIV/AIDS gathered in the Northwest Park Blocks gathered to share their stories.
Many diagnosed with AIDS in the 80s and early-90s were told they only had a year or so to live.
“I've waited 25 years to die and I'm still here,” said Vern Horner.
Some of them beat the odds and have been thriving for decades, thanks to anti-viral drugs.
“I was told in '85 that I had less than 2 years to live and I'd be blind in 6 months,” said Jim Cox.
The day of recognition was started as a grassroots effort to cut down on the shame of living with the disease and the rate of new infections.
“If we're really going to cut new infection, we have to reduce the stigma around HIV and AIDS, or there won’t be people who refuse be tested or won't get onto treatment,” Cox said.
Some at the gathering felt alone, others have survivor's guilt.
Horner remembers losing 27 friends in three years, before antiviral medications began to stay the AIDS death sentence.
Horner said he was participating in memory of his departed friends.
“I'm going to be thinking of all the people I've lost,” Horner said, after struggling to find the words.
Many at the gathered said drugs may have kept them from dying but it was their will to live that kept them going.
“It's just deciding to embrace a future,” Cox said. “And live a purposeful life. It has a direct effect on the immune system.”
The group then walked to Hobos resturant in Old Town/Chinatown and raised their glasses in a toast.
“To our friend and to our health,” Cox said to the crowded room.
Cornelius Swart contributed to this story