Frank Garner is living proof that long-term survival with HIV is possible. He tested positive 18 years ago.
“I had a partner who had been married,” Frank says. “He left his wife and moved in with me. It turned out that he had been seeing someone before me who died, so we both went to get tested. We were both positive.”
This was long before the era of effective treatments for HIV.
“It was a scary time,” Frank says. “My buddies were getting tested, and they died within a few weeks or months of testing positive. I was living in Washington D.C. at the time, and one thing that helped was that we had a fantastic support group to go to.”
Thirteen years ago, Frank moved to Key West, Florida.
“My best friend was living here,” Frank says. “He immediately took me to the outstanding local AIDS Service Organization, AIDS Help, Inc., and I signed up as a client. I was a regular client for several years until about five years ago, when I got to the point that I just couldn’t work any more. AIDSHelp, Inc. found me housing, got me on Medicare, Social Security – everything I needed. My case worker was just incredible. One of the things that is hardest on positive people is stress, and they took the stress away.”
“The standard of care here in Key West is great,” Frank says. “I have a great doctor, great clinic work – I can’t say enough about how supportive everybody in this town is. With the new HIV meds that have come on the market, I’ve managed to keep kicking.”
Actually, Frank has done much better than just keep kicking. Grateful for everything the Key West community has done for him, he has done his best to give back. Among his many community activities, he has served as President of the Key West Lesbian and Gay Pride Alliance, and for the past 12 years he has been the director of the annual Gay Pride Parade.
He’s also been involved in the Planning Partnership process, serving as Chair of Prevention for Monroe County (the Florida Keys). And for the past five years he has Chaired the Key West Art in Public Places Board – a natural for him, since he got his degree in Fine Arts.
“We just got a wonderful art commission installed in our ferry terminal,” Frank says. “It feels great to be able to do something for this town that has given me so much.”
Frank feels very lucky to have had tremendous family support throughout his experience with HIV. His mother passed away three years ago, but he still talks to his Dad every week. “His first question,” Frank says, “Is always, ‘How are you doing?’”
When we asked Frank if he did anything special to keep his attitude positive, he was quick to credit his faith. He is an active member of the Metropolitan Community Church of Key West. “I could go on and on with faith stories,” Frank says. He is also a member of the recovery community with 20 years clean and sober. “That is a fantastic help,” he says.
Frank's advice for others with HIV?
“Be happy,” Frank says. “Live, live, live.”
Copyright 2012, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!