When Dennis Golay and his partner, Larry Gibson, tested positive for HIV infection in 1988, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, it seemed like a death sentence. Dennis is now in his late 60’s, feeling blessed, and that “life is really good,” thanks in no small part to D.A.P.
Dennis’ later years have been hampered by serious illness and then Larry Gibson, his partner of 32 years, died. Through all of this, D.A.P. has been by his side with myriad in-home services, chief among them a Home Caregiver named Steve Meyers.
Christine Bielawa, RN and Medical Case Manager, says Steve is part of our team of case managers, nurses, social workers, and Home Caregivers, who make it possible for clients to remain safe and independent in their homes by bringing care to them. Revivals also contributes to home care for Dennis and 69 other clients because all revenues above operating costs fund services provided by D.A.P. Moreover, some of Dennis’ furnishings, including the bar stool on which he sat while being interviewed, came from Revivals.
“Home Care Case Management is unique,” Christina says. “We see clients where they live.”
Dennis’ Home Care Team—Social Worker and Registered Nurse—visit quarterly to evaluate his health and asses his needs. Frequently, they also call to check on him as well, Christina says.
Steve visits on Monday and Thursday doing laundry, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, cooking, and driving Dennis to appointments. Steve also has dropped off donations from Dennis to Revivals.
“Anything a client needs help with, I’m here to do that,” Steve says.
“He does great laundry,” Dennis chimes in, “not that I have that much.”
Dennis is a slight wisp of a guy: five-foot-five and 118 pounds. He needed a pair of big shoulders to lean on when Larry passed away. What he got was support from his Home Care team. And Steve was there, too, all six-foot-four-inches and 265 pounds of him.
“There’ve been times when I was ill, near death’s door and I couldn’t do anything and Steve was always there,” Dennis recalls. Dennis was hospitalized for 26 days with MRSA Pneumonia and septicemia, his body poisoning itself, the cure wrecking his kidneys. “Steve was there when I got home. He did everything. Then Larry got sick. Life has been traumatic around here. I don’t know what either my partner or I would have done without Steve and the home care staff.”
Steve is very humble in the face of such praise.
“My clients are my circle of family,” Steve says shyly. “I don’t think you can do this without building personal relationships and connections with people.”
Both Dennis and Larry moved to the Palm Springs area in 1995, specifically for the array of services D.A.P. provides, unable to find adequate care elsewhere. Although treatments were still being tested and perfected, and the two battled low T-cells and opportunistic infections, Dennis credits D.A.P. with providing the care they needed to survive, and even thrive, once treatments improved. As their health improved, for many years, they were dedicated volunteers for D.A.P.—in the Food Depot and Condom Club, at the Desert AIDS Walk, and the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards annual fundraising gala. They were outspoken supporters, always ready to tell their stories of living with HIV in an effort to dispel the stigma attached to the disease.
D.A.P. care gave them the opportunity to grow old together, something they hadn’t dared hope for when first diagnosed. Growing older with HIV is not without its challenges, as older PLWHA begin to experience other health complications associated with aging and some HIV treatments are even known to accelerate the process.
In fact, Larry battled AIDS plus other co-infections, including Hepatitis C and diabetes for many years. It is Dennis’s feeling that D.A.P. extended his partner’s life at least 10 years beyond what it would have otherwise been.
Several years before that, Dennis himself had suffered a heart attack and underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Already weakened by heart disease, two years ago, he was hospitalized with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection complicated by septicemia. Although he survived against the odds, the septicemia and strength of the antibiotics used to treat his infection weakened his kidneys such that he required dialysis for the next 7 months. Larry cared for Dennis and then became terrible weak himself.
“Every time I come into this house I say hello to Larry,” Steve says, “and I say hello to Larry with sadness and joy. So this is very personal. It’s one of the biggest reasons this work is so rewarding. It’s not just coming into a house to clean it. It’s much more than that.”
“DAP’s Home Care can be emotionally challenging case management due to intimate interactions involved. We get to know families, friends and even neighbors,” Christina says. “It is personal and moving.”
Although Dennis no longer requires dialysis, his health must be closely monitored.
Living alone with heart disease and weakened kidneys, Dennis is in need of some assistance in order to remain in his home. Although he is currently insured by and HMO and no longer receives his medical care at D.A.P. through Medi-Cal and Ryan White as he has in the past, he does still receive D.A.P. medical transportation assistance.
Dennis reports that the quality of his life has been greatly enriched by D.A.P.’s Home Care team. Although he accepts that someday he may need to sell his home and move to assisted living, with D.A.P. Home Care he says, it will be his decision, not that of his disease.
“Home Care allows me to live a normal life,” Dennis says.
As I interviewed him, there was a light in his voice that often seemed so contrary to the life challenges he was describing—crushing illness and loss. But his life story is what D.A.P. exists for—to give hope, to facilitate triumph over adversity, to offer our clients a chance to feel that “life is really good” despite HIV.