Albany man shares struggle of living with AIDS

Charlie Gardner was diagnosed HIV positive at 32. Since then it has progressed into AIDS and he is encouraging everyone to be proactive and get tested / Colby Gallagher

Charlie Gardner is your average man; he likes fishing, socializing and going to church. However, just like everyone else, he also has his fears.

"I'm scared to go to sleep at times. I don't go to sleep, I'll sit up in the chair and I'll doze off but still I'm afraid because I feel like I won't wake up in the morning."

At 32 years old, Gardner went for a routine check-up at the doctors and opted to be tested for the HIV virus â" it came out positive. His case falls into the second highest age group that seeks treatment for HIV in our area, the first being the 45-64 age range with almost half of the cases. It wasn't until earlier this year that Gardner realized it developed into full-blown AIDS.

"When the doctor told me he said 'Charlie?' I said 'Yes, sir?' He said "I'm going to tell you something: take care of yourself, you don't have long to live now that it's full grown.'"

For years Gardner lived with the virus, which is most commonly contracted by having unprotected sex, but doctors say it lowers your immune system and allows for other infections to get in. Out of the 1,050 infected people treated by the Albany Area Primary Healthcare's AIDS Clinic, 485 of them also developed an infection that led to AIDS.

"They're what we call opportunistic infections. They're infections that are caused by bugs that are just kind of all around us and most of us have been exposed to. Healthy people don't get sick from them but people with altered immune systems do get sick from them," said Terri Moncus, a nurse with Albany Area Primary Healthcare.

From there it progresses into an Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Gardner says now that it has for him, he has to use a walking stick to get around and cover up the spots that cover his body â" but it wasn't always this way. Moncus says many of those who are HIV positive live healthy lives.

"You can't tell. I think that that's where people get a false sense of security sometimes about their partners like 'Well she doesn't look sick. Well he didn't look sick," said Moncus.

Because of this, the only way to truly know if you're infected with the HIV virus is to be tested. Chanel Scott-Dixon with the Southwest Health District's HIV/AIDS Program says her office offers two ways to find that out.

"We offer two HIV tests, we do Clearview testing and OraQuick. Both of them are 20 minute tests and you'll know your results within 20 minutes. It's a finger-prick if you do the Clearview. testing, if you do OraQuick it's an oral swab."

Although it's too late for Charlie Gardner, he says he wants to make sure others know to use protection and regularly get check-ups so they don't get infected â" especially the younger generation.

"We have seen an increase in numbers in HIV, particularly in the younger generation. We're seeing more younger people between the ages of 20 to 25 that are testing positive for HIV in this area," said Scott-Dixon.

To find out where you can get tested for free call 229-430-5140. If you know your status and are looking for treatment call 229-431-1423.

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