Tony Monken was diagnosed with AIDS in October, 2008.
“I was never sick,” Tony says. “But I have a demanding job, often working 60 hours a week, and I was starting to have a lot of fatigue. I went to my doctor, and he suggested an HIV test. My CD4 (T-cell) count was only 15, and my viral load was 584,000. Obviously, I was infected quite some time ago, because I already had an advanced case of AIDS.”
“I went home and bawled for two or three days,” Tony says. “Then I realized I wasn’t going to die, so I might as well get going.”
Tony sought out a specialist and got his AIDS under control. Today, he’s still working 50–60 hours a week, his viral load has been “undetectable” for seven months, and he’s built his CD4 count up to 276.
He also jumped into the fight against AIDS with both feet.
“I got plugged in with an AIDS Service Organization in Belleville, IL, called Bethany Place,” Tony says. “I knew a little about AIDS already—like most gay men, I’ve had friends who perished from it in the past. I did some real research, and actually gave a speech one week after I was diagnosed, crying like a baby. Bethany Place has a prevention department, headed by Katie Barnhart, and I do a lot of speaking engagements with her. We’ve done presentations at a senior’s group at a local Presbyterian Church, a couple of colleges, and a camp for families affected by HIV.”
As a result of his outreach work, Tony was recently appointed a charter member of the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy (ILASAP), a division of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “I just attended a forum where we were updated by Jeff Crowley, who is an AIDS advisor to President Obama,” Tony says.
Tony’s family and friends were scared when they heard about his diagnosis, but supportive. “I never had any discrimination from family or friends, no ‘shut-downs’ or anything like that,” Tony says. “All they care about is me and my health. My mother is a nurse, and she worries more than she needs to, like most mothers. I have run into some negativity outside of my circle of family and friends, but I’m a big boy, I’ve got broad shoulders—it doesn’t bother me.”
Tony’s advice to others newly diagnosed with HIV?
“Two things,” Tony says. “First, do what you need to do to deal with it. And, second, realize that you can live. It’s up to you.”
“I believe in the idea of ‘each one teach one,’” Tony says. “Before I die, if I can educate one person, and one person takes it to heart—then I’ve done what I should have done.”
Tony Monken is both a client and a volunteer at Bethany Place, the largest non-profit, community based ASO (AIDS Service Organization) in the Metro East area of St. Louis.
Bethany Place was founded in 1988 by Sisters Mary Rombach and Carol Baltosiewich of the Franciscan Third Order of Hospital Sisters. Bethany Place started out as an outpatient hospice service and healing ministry of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, Illinois.
Today, Bethany Place provides services to people living with HIV/AIDS, including case management, prevention/education, transitional housing, rental assistance, needle exchange, and volunteer services. The agency serves twelve counties in Southern Illinois: Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Fayette, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Randolf, St. Clair and Washington.
Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
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