“You’ve Got to Help in Any Way, Form, or Fashion That You Can”

By Rob Banaszak on August 23, 2010 in Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts

Dr. Celia Maxwell

Dr. Celia Maxwell

by Celia J. Maxwell MD, FACP
Assistant Vice President, Health Sciences
Director, Women’s Health Institute
Howard University
Washington, D.C.

As a member of the Board of Trustees of the National AIDS Fund, I want to talk today about why the Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts campaign is so close to my heart, and why I think it is such an important initiative. The goal of this campaign is to raise money from and for communities of color so that they can support programs that fight HIV/AIDS in their respective communities.

I began my career as an infectious disease physician 27 years ago. This is when AIDS was known as the “gay cancer,” when physicians turned away patients out of fear, and people thought they could contract the disease from mosquito bites or from sharing the same swimming pool. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS and have seen the disease transform from a fatal illness to a chronic disease. But, through it all, one case right at the beginning of my career stands out and is responsible for my commitment to eradicating this disease.

This was in the 1980s and my patient was a young 26-year-old woman of color. She had done everything “right” – gone to college, had a good education, and a good job. The only thing she did “wrong” was have unprotected sex with a man that she didn’t know was at risk. I remember, the patient was the child of older parents, who were in their seventies when I met them. By that time their daughter was comatose, and the father would sit beside his child’s tube-riddled body and weep. He couldn’t believe that this had happened to his baby girl. That was a watershed moment for me. I could never shake it… he was weeping because he didn’t know what else to do. This was his baby, he was supposed to save his baby, and she was dying. I never forgot that. The moment resonated because I have just one child, a daughter also. I could feel his helplessness, how easily that could have been me. I’ve had more than a thousand patients, but this one has stayed with me all these many years, and will probably stay with me till the day that I die. As a mother, as a parent, that was the moment when I said, “You know what, you’ve got to help in any way, form, or fashion that you can.”

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