Charleston, WV
United States
Washington Street East/ Sidney Avenue The Living AIDS Memorial Garden since 1 December 1998
East End AIDS Memorial Garden plants for spring
In the spring, they grow tulips and daffodils. In the summer, black-eyed susans and roses. And in the fall, mums and pansies. The pansies will live through the winter and into spring again, ensuring something is always alive and blooming in the Living AIDS Memorial Garden on Charleston’s East End. “We named the garden ‘The Living Garden’ because we wanted people to know that AIDS is not a death sentence anymore,” said Bruce Severino, president of the garden’s board.

Members of the garden’s board met Saturday to plant tulip bulbs in the garden, which sits on the last block of Washington Street before the Capitol Complex. A small green space wedged between McDonald’s and Sydney Street, the garden was created 18 years ago as a testament to those who had lived with AIDS, died from complications of the disease, knew someone with AIDS or lost someone. Today, more than 200 engraved bricks dot the pathway through the garden.

Christine Teague, director of the Ryan White Program at Charleston Area Medical Center, said the garden’s focus on life is a result of a shift in treatment. In the late 1970s and 1980s, when AIDS was still a relative unknown, those infected succumbed to different diseases, including Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer caused by certain viral infections, and pneumonia. It wasn’t until 1995, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the first protease inhibitor, that AIDS became a manageable disease, she said.
“My partner just missed the protease inhibitors. He died in 1995,” Severino said. “I had a lot of friends who died before the protease inhibitors.”

Teague said HIV/AIDS, which weakens the immune system and leaves sufferers vulnerable to many other diseases and types of cancer, affects as many as 2,000 West Virginians of different backgrounds, sexual orientation and age. Common modes of transmission include unprotected sex, used hypodermic needles and from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.
Teague said that although treatment has improved greatly since the disease was first documented in the U.S., a new concern has emerged -- many people no longer consider AIDS a serious disease, and the rate of transmission is at the same level it was in 1985. “There’s a lot of complacency in the community about it,” Teague said.

Lynne Sandy, a board member and chair of the fundraising committee, said her greatest hope for AIDS awareness is that young, sexually active people are “not naive, and smart about their choices.” Sandy moved back to Charleston in 2000; she had left in 1985 to move to New York City when the epidemic was at its peak, and said she lost a lot of friends during that period. “I had a gay roommate at the time, and I watched the whole thing play out. By the early 1990s, he was dead,” she said. “The fear and the phobia -- I’m glad I was there to experience it, but it really was a horrible time.”

Geert Bakker has also seen the way AIDS can affect lives firsthand; his wife’s brother and her cousin both died from the disease. “I remember my brother-in-law, all of the hiding and the fear. His partner was a pharmacist, and if his customers knew he was gay, he’d be fired. So when his partner was dying, he still had to hide what he was and couldn’t talk about it,” Bakker said. “It was a life you cannot imagine. My brother-in-law was an attorney for a large insurance firm, and someone once found out and threatened to tell, so he had to leave and find a new job. He lived in fear all the time.”

Evolving treatments for AIDS have the board more hopeful than ever -- an existing antiretroviral used to treat the disease has been shown to be an effective prophylaxis in studies, Teague said, and existing drug combinations work well to keep the disease under control. Despite this, AIDS is still capable of significantly shortening a person’s lifespan, she said.

“What many people don’t realize is that although the disease is managed with therapy, as soon as they become infected, their risk for other things goes way up,” Teague said. “Their risk for having a heart attack at a younger age; they’re much more likely to have cancer, cognitive and memory impairment, kidney problems -- it’s not a cake walk.”

According to Sandy, the board’s ultimate goal is to create an endowment large enough that the garden can be maintained in perpetuity. They hold fundraisers throughout the year, including an ice cream social in the park during Pride Week.

Photo: Christine Teague, director of the Ryan White Program at CAMC, plants a tulip bulb at the Living AIDS Memorial Garden on the East End of Charleston on Saturday.

Photo (C) Kenny Kemp West Virginia Gazette

8 November 2014
Lydia Nuzum, Charleston, WV