World AIDS Day is a big event for the Thomas Street Health Center, the very first freestanding HIV/AIDS clinic in the U.S. They choose to mark it with a ‘Tree of Remembrance” for family and friends who’ve died from this disease. Many people crowd around the 16-foot tree to place their ornaments on a branch, including Stavoris Vaughn who has HIV and lost his brother to the disease. He’s attaching a picture of his brother Walter to a gold ornament.
“This picture is one of my sister’s that she had in a photo album cause I wanted a picture of him to carry with me and when I was putting this on I just realized that I’ve been carrying this in my wallet since 2004 when he died. I didn’t realize I had it that long but it made me feel closer to him.”
Something Vaughn didn’t know before today is that he has a common bond with Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
“I lost my brother to AIDS and I lost him in a time when we were still struggling to find places that would treat people with dignity and care and respect. We were still trying to understand what this disease was about and so I thank you on behalf of my brother for all that you do here.”
As a result of his experience Sheriff Garcia has worked on reducing the number of inmates in Harris County jail dying from HIV and AIDS annually from 20 to 4 through increased inmate treatment. Thomas Street clinic physician Dr. Thomas Giordano says Garcia has the right idea.
“I believe there is a cure for HIV and you know who’s got the cure. Sheriff Garcia’s has the cure for HIV and Mr. Lopez has a cure for HIV. Everyone here has a role to play in curing HIV.”
While Dr. Giordano believes we’re still a long way from getting the number of HIV/AIDS deaths to zero, there is one thing people can do to help.
“The more we talk about it the less stigma there will be, the less stigma there is the less fear there is. The more people can deal successfully with their HIV infection.”
Talking has certainly helped Stavoris Vaughn. As he searches for a perfect spot to put the ornament with his brother’s picture he explains why he’s ready to let go of a photograph he’s carried for eight years.
“Cause I was thinking now if someone looks at this, this picture can serve as a strength of hope and encouragement for them to see him. He lived a vibrant life, a full life and he was at peace I know he was when he died.”
World AIDS Day is observed on December 1st to mark the passing of over 25 million people from the AIDS pandemic.