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Stand up to AIDS.

After the fatal diagnosis has been pronounced, AIDS victims have two choices. They can close up and give up. . .or they can open up, stand up, and fight back. The Post salutes two courageous men who have chosen not to take the death sentence of this burgeoning epidemic lying down.

It was a typical Sunday morning at Old Bethel Church (grown from a log cabin in 1838 to a present-day membership of 1,550) on Indianapolis' far east side. The Rev. Gene P. Crawford, the senior pastor of Old Bethel, stood in the pulpit, and all was well-until he turned on a videotaped statement that would stun the congregation.

The voice was that of the Rev. Donald C. Wade, 61, an associate minister. And he was using this means to announce that he had contracted AIDS. Pastor Wade had been sick since Christmas of last year; it had been only recently that the doctors had traced the affliction to a series of blood transfusions in 1984 during open-heart surgery. Pneumocystis pneumonia last December tipped his unsuspecting doctors that this 61 -year-old father of three and husband of some 35 years was suffering from AIDS.

Pastor Wade, speaking from the hospital where he was then being treated for pneumonia, was cheerful and upbeat as he praised the support of his wife, Miriam; his three grown children; and hospital employees for helping him through the ordeal. He also thanked members of the church for their kindness expressed during his lengthy illness. "No price tag can be placed on that love," he said.

We questioned Pastor Crawford about the response of the church members.

"I have not had a single person speak to me negatively," came his quick "I asked my administrative secretary only this morning-secretaries are usually the persons to pick up things like this-if she had heard anything, and she said not a single negative word had come to her.

"It's not a perfect congregation," he added. "Like all congregations we have our foibles, but we're a loving, caring congregation. The church fathers and mothers are dealing with our realities in a very positive and meaningful way, and we're proud of the fact that we've been able thus far to pull off the job.

"What we are trying to do is treat Rev. Wade as a human being with a problem, and when he's well enough to work, he's welcome to work. We're just trying to act like Christian people, loving him and supporting him and the family in a very difficult time," Pastor Crawford said.

The story of Pastor Wade's dramatic videotaped announcement to the church congregation was given wide newspaper and TV coverage throughout the state. We asked Pastor Crawford about the press. He responded that one reporter had asked questions as to whether Pastor Wade was in a high-risk group because of bisexual activity. Pastor Crawford, astonished, emphatically denied any such possibility. "I guess they have to ask such questions to sell newspapers," he said.

We asked about the impact the AIDS disclosure had had upon Pastor Wade himself. Was the account true that his strong faith in God had actually grown in recent months?

"Oh, yes," Pastor Crawford said, leaning forward in his eagerness to answer. "Don has been quite free to say that as a result of the tragedy-and it is a tragedy-he has experienced God in new levels, new depths of trust and faith. He has also said that although he cannot see his own future, he has placed his trust in God, who allows him to see all that he needs to see in a given time."

Another courageous man is Paul Gann, the well-known tax and government-spending critic of Carmichael, California, who recently stunned the state's political establishment by announcing that he is an AIDS victim. He then somewhat relieved the somber mood with his plans to launch a campaign to battle the disease.

Gann said he agonized over the decision to make his illness public because of the impact on his family. But he was appalled to learn that his doctor was not even allowed to tell another doctor of his infection without his permission. "Instead of selfishly trying to protect ourselves by keeping secrets," he said, "we should be leading the fight to protect our friends and loved ones from becoming infected. Nobody wants you to wear a T-shirt that says how you got it-people don't care how you got it. They only want to know that you have it so they can be protected. It is a grave responsibility, and I'm trying to say to them out there, 'Hey, don't be ashamed of the fact that you have the disease. Just don't pass it on to your family and friends and destroy them.' "

Doctors say that Gann's acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus was picked up from tainted blood in March 1982, when the outspoken crusader received blood transfusions during open-heart surgery. He was quite willing to talk with us about the virus-infected blood and the unfortunate results. And we will confess to being a bit choked up when this 75-year-old scrapper against taxes and government waste turned his attack toward this devastating 20th-century plague. "I made up my mind that if it gets me," he said, "it's going to have to work at the job because I'm going to keep battling as long as I can. It will likely be the last campaign of my life."

That campaign will be for broader AIDS testing and disclosure. The frail but determined co-author of the tax-cutting Proposition 13 and writer of the spending limit on California state and local governments has already endorsed controversial legislation to require AIDS tests for marriage license applicants and felony penalties for AIDS-infected persons who knowingly donate blood. "People who know they are infected and still transmit the disease should be tried for murder," he s"because it is a death sentence."

Gann told us that he hopes his admission that he has AIDS will help to protect others. One doctor told him, he said, that there may be a million people out there who could spread the disease without realizing it. "It is so dangerous," Gann added, "that I felt compelled to do it, and my family, including my adult grandchildren, agreed."

"I'm so pleased that people are taking the attitude they're taking," he said"My desk is loaded with letters, and not one single piece of mail is derogatory in any way. Instead, it's 'God bless you,' 'get well,' and 'don't die on us, we need you.' Our phones, two lines at the house and three in the office, have been jammed with calls, many of them just to say they are praying for me. You know. . .beautiful."

The afflicted campaigner was thrilled to learn of the Post's AIDS Mobile and the free, anonymous blood tests that will be made available. "It fits in so beautifully with what I felt we had to do," he said. "I've had calls from people who were told where to go to be tested only to be instructed to come back in three weeks. And one person wouldn't go to his own doctor because he'd been unemployed for six months and feared the cost. I've wanted some arrangement where this guy could have a blood test.

"President Reagan has signed a couple of my petitions over the years, and I'm thinking of calling him. He loves people, and I love him because of it," Gann said. We suggested that because the President must have required a lot of blood when he was shot, he, too, should be tested anonymously for AIDS, if he hasn't already been tested. It probably can't happen, but it would be great, we said, if the President would stand up and say, "Because I had blood transfusions, I was tested for AIDS-so should you be if you've had blood transfusions."

Gann was enthusiastic at the prospect and was in complete agreement.

Whatever lies in store for the Rev. Donald Wade and for Paul Gann, they will not "go gentle into that good night." Instead, it will be with the sounds of praise and encouragement from the many who admire their courage in standing up to AIDS, the 20th-century Goliath now awaiting the lethal stone from some unknown David's sling.
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Title Annotation:special AIDS report
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1987
Previous Article:Elizabeth Taylor's crusade against AIDS.
Next Article:Had a blood transfusion? Planning a baby? Then have an anonymous, free AIDS test.

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