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A 20-year survivor.

Matt Redman was diagnosed with AIDS just as everyone else in the world was first learning of the disease

In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Matt Redman hung out with one woman and four young gay men who were so close, they considered one another family. One by one they were diagnosed with HIV. Today, Redman, who contracted HIV in the late 1970s, is the sole survivor.

But Redman, 51, has more than just fond memories of his buddies.

In 1982, Redman and two members of his group--plus a fourth person--founded AIDS Project Los Angeles, which has grown from a hotline operating out of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center to one of the largest social service groups in the nation.

Today, Redman, a Los Angeles interior designer, remains an honorary board member of APLA. In an interview with The Advocate on the 20th anniversary of AIDS, he reflected on the organization he nurtured, surviving AIDS, and the future of the epidemic.

It must have been terrifying to be diagnosed when doctors knew so little about the disease.

I was infected in the late '70s. Before they even had a test for HIV, my T-cell level was dangerously low. I wasn't terribly surprised because so ninny of the people I ran with had already become sick. Why would I be different? For some reason I wasn't really scared. It was so early on that no one could predict what would happen. I didn't really get scared until I became ill in 1998. During a prescribed medication break, I came down with my first opportunistic infections. I could barely walk because the HIV had blossomed in my spinal fluid. When I got sick I felt I had to drastically alter what my expectations for life could be. My future suddenly seemed very limited. Life became about limitations rather than opportunities for the future. Today, I'm doing fine on my drug regimen, and my optimism is back.

What's the story behind APLA?

My friends and I were in New York in 1981, hearing stories among friends coming down with this mysterious disease. We realized that back home in L.A. there was no hotline, no medical care, and no one to turn to for emotional support. We raised $7,000 to found the hotline. From there it grew into APLA, which provided everything from education and prevention to lobbying and advocacy work. I'm very proud that our organization and other ones like it are a model of community response to a problem that the government didn't want to deal with.

Recent studies have shown rising rates of HIV infection. How can we educate succeeding generations of sexually active gay men about HIV prevention?

We have known for some time that we have the makings of a second epidemic on our hands. The younger generation feel AIDS is an old man's disease. They feel invulnerable, partly because they are not hearing about young people with the disease and how much suffering it can still cause. To be honest, I'm not sure we have learned exactly how to reach these men. It's just horrible to think that others will experience what my generation went through.

Some argue that protease inhibitors signaled the end of AIDS.

I don't even want to comment on people who think like that. They are not part of my world. It's no coincidence that as the media has portrayed protease as a near "cure," some people have grabbed onto this misinformation to lessen their commitment to protected sex. The new drugs have made AIDS survivable, but there is no such thing as a cure. The side effects alone can be awful.

This is the 20th anniversary not only of the epidemic but of your diagnosis as well.

Marking 20 years of an epidemic is sobering. But it's productive because it has brought AIDS back to the attention of the public and policy makers. For the last several years, we as a nation seem to have forgotten about the epidemic. People seem to think it's relegated to Africa. Now maybe we can start talking about prevention again.

And personally?

I don't know why I'm still alive, to be honest. Some of the factors are good medical care, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise. I have a positive belief in myself and in my future. Most important, I've dedicated much of my life to the HIV community. Having a mission in life has kept me going through all the hard times.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Matt Redman contracted HIV in late 1970s
Author:Bull, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 17, 2001
Previous Article:Transitions.
Next Article:Getting personal.

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