AIDS Patients, Doctors Reflect on 25-Year Mark
On June 5th, 1981, scientists documented the cases of five previously healthy men in California who contracted a rare kind of pneumonia. Those five became the first officially reported cases of AIDS.
The disease has taken its toll on Tennessee, but there is a strong effort here to fight it.
"But you know in the beginning, the doctor sort of patted you on the head and said you may have two good years," said Mark Hubbard, who is living with AIDS.
Twenty years later, Mark Hubbard is still alive, living with AIDS. Over the years, medical breakthroughs have kept AIDS patients, like Hubbard, alive.
"Now, I think there is the possibility of a cure,” Hubbard said.
A lot has changed since the first case of HIV was reported 25 years ago.
"It's amazing to me that people are actually living longer now,” said Drema Mace with the Comprehensive Care Center.
Nashville's Comprehensive Care Center is the area's largest lifeline when it come to getting care for patients with HIV and AIDS. Doctors are finding more people living longer and healthier lives with the disease but every year, there are new cases.
"It's amazing to me that we're still seeing 300 new cases every year have at the center," Mace said.
Over the past five years in Tennessee, 1,500 people have died from AIDS. More than 18,000 also live with HIV and AIDS.
Over the years, different segments of the population have been getting HIV at higher rates. Among young people and Hispanics, the numbers are rising.
"The biggest increase now is African-American women, and it's heterosexual transmission,” Mace said.
"Hope was a huge part of me getting here today,” Hubbard said.
Doctors think, even though he has AIDS, Mark Hubbard will have a nearly normal lifespan. Still, Hubbard said it's not easy. It all goes back to a question he asked himself 20-years ago.
"Do you choose to take this on and fight? And it makes a big difference, because it's a lot of work, it's my full-time job to fight this,” Hubbard said.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a part of the race to find a cure. Doctors there are running clinical tests for possible vaccines that could protect individuals from the virus that causes AIDS.