Michael Varga fell in love with both international travel and making a difference in the world as a young Peace Corps volunteer who served in Africa during the 1970s.
By 1995, Varga was in the Foreign Service and — after having served in United Arab Emirates, Syria, and Morocco — was an American diplomat stationed in Toronto, Canada. An economics officer who felt like he was at the top of the world, in the middle of helping craft U.S. foreign policy, Varga was also juggling fewer than 100 T-cells and an AIDS diagnosis.
Like many of us, his experience was of friends dying all around him. So when a doctor told him he had 18 months to live, he became a sudden retiree and started a whole new life — one that has lasted, well, a couple of decades more so far. Varga is now a happy, relatively healthy, long-term survivor of HIV and he shares his story of what happened in those 23 years on page 20.
At the other end of the spectrum, is our amazing cover star, Ashley Rose Murphy, who may be a long-term survivor but is also just 19 years old. Born HIV-positive, she spent nearly six months hospitalized in an induced coma, and was never expected to survive. But this young fighter is more than a survivor — she came out at 7 and ever since has been an outspoken activist. An ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the college student recently launched her own campaign, OutLoud on HIV. (Read Murphy’s inspiring story on page 24.)
In this same issue, we answer the 15 most common questions doctors and therapists hear about aging with HIV. The answers come from two of our favorite New York experts: Plus’s mental health editor, Dr. Gary McClain, a therapist specializing in chronic medical conditions, and author of several books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living and Empowering Your Life With Joy; and Plus’s medical expert, Dr. Frank Spinelli, the popular physician who hosts Dueling Doctors and author of The Advocate Guide to Health and Wellness. Both docs offer their unvarnished opinions about what you really need to know to stay healthy as you age — especially when you’re living with HIV (and sometimes other conditions that go hand in hand with being positive).
Managing editor David Artavia looks at HIV among LGBT youth in Houston, especially as the city recovers from last year’s Hurricane Harvey (see page 16). In the nation’s fourth largest city — which sprawls over 600-square miles and is inhabited by 2.3 million people — combating new HIV diagnoses, building more shelters, and providing more HIV tests may not be enough. I was touched by the social workers who are trying to help these kids get mental health and HIV services, while themselves making a minimum wage salary and living off food stamps to support their own families. When you realize 60 percent of these LGBT kids were booted from their home by a parent or guardian, it hits you just how critical non-profits are in keeping youth alive and healthy.
Also in this issue: Styx bassist Chuck Panozzo promotes Ft. Lauderdale’s World AIDS Museum (page 9), Jennifer Holliday headlines a benefit for Maitri Compassionate Care (page 8), a popular Latinx web series eradicates HIV stigma (page 7), and California became the latest — and largest — state to modernize its criminal statutes related to HIV (page 13).
Oh, and it’s the end of “cuffing season,” so time to get moving and see what’s out in the world for you. Enjoy spring!