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May 23, 2008

Vigil remembers family and friends, urges more AIDS prevention

Canton--“I think sometimes we have forgotten that HIV is still here,” Melissa Franjesh of North Canton told the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. “Young people know about medication to control it; but ways to prevent it, we need to go out and share that again and again and again.”

Franjesh spoke to 87 people who came to Canton’s New Vision United Church of Christ on May 18 to remember friends and family lost to AIDS.

The vigil was one of three Ohio events affiliated with the Global Health Council, in 119 countries. The others were held in Warren and Dayton. It was Canton’s 19th annual event and the council’s 25th--the first was in San Francisco in 1983.

Long-term survivor Steve Borger of Canton told participants he found out he was infected when a blood bank told him that an elderly woman who had gotten a transfusion of his blood in 1979 came down with AIDS. The virus now known as HIV was not discovered in the U.S. until two years later, and there was no test for it until 1985.

Borger enrolled in a trial treatment at University Hospital of Cleveland.

“The pills are free, but it’s a crapshoot because you never know whether you’re getting real pills or placebos,” Borger said.

“It seems incredible I’m still here,” Borger added. “I elected not to start a 401K at work. Why should I? I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it.”

Borger spoke about losing friends and his personal losses over 29 years of being positive.

“I don’t worry about what others think anymore,” Borger said, “and nothing trivial bothers me.”

Jolie Lukes, formerly of Atlanta and now living in Canton, railed against ignorance and demanded that more be done for prevention of the disease.

Lukes, 28, has been positive since 2005.

“I was an addict,” she said. “Getting tested was not on my mind. Getting my next fix was on my mind.”

Once diagnosed, Lukes spent 24 days in the hospital three years ago when she was told she had six months to live.

“I overcame a whole lot in the hospital in those 24 days,” Lukes said. “I wasn’t doing nothing but getting better.”

Professional dancer Kimberly Payne performed an interpretive piece titled “Carried to the Table,” based on a passage from the Biblical book of Samuel.

Vigil committee members Borger, Pam Gibbs, Patty Milford, Jim Wazlavek, Robin Long, Sandy Guist, and Marie Cox read nearly 300 names while members of the Iron Eagles leather group lit a candle for each.


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