The Changing Face of AIDS : 'It Could Happen to Any of You' : Ann Copeland, 47, Hermosa Beach

I was 39 and had dated Patrick for eight years when we split up. I signed up for a night class in literature at Santa Monica City College and met a man there--a businessman from Santa Monica who was recently divorced and had a small child. He seemed like a nice, safe person to date.

We slept together very few times because I quickly realized he wasn't for me, and Patrick and I got back together less than five months after we originally split up.

That year, 1987, I donated blood as I always do, in February and in September. The February blood was fine. But I got a certified letter from the Red Cross in December saying the September blood was HIV-positive. It took three months for them to let me know.

The only guy I'd dated other than Patrick was this gentleman from the class. I subsequently found out that he had full-blown AIDS and he was bisexual. He died eight months after I was diagnosed.

Patrick was like a saint. We got married three months after I was diagnosed. He's the reason I'm still alive. I quickly tried to find a support group, but none of them had women at the time. Eventually I found one in the San Fernando Valley with five women like myself. It was my lifeline to sanity.

Soon I realized there are a staggering number of women who've been infected by straight or bisexual men. Men who refuse to disclose their illness to the women they sleep with, which means they are killing those women. Most women involved can't afford to go public, so we never hear about them. HIV is an unacceptable disease. It frightens everybody away. So they just stay in the closet and then they die.

In 1991, I co-founded Women at Risk in Culver City. It's a nonprofit group run by and for HIV-positive women. Our goal is to help women deal with this disease.

It's a full-time job when you have AIDS. It's so hard to function with it, and there is so much discrimination and embarrassment.

I'm lucky because I have a great husband, no little kids to deal with, I have health insurance and I can go to private doctors. People with kids and no insurance, who take buses and wait five hours at a time in a clinic--how do you manage all that when you feel faint and your feet are numb? When you have no one to help you and no money?

People say they are tired of hearing about AIDS. I say they'd better not get tired until we beat this, because it's out there and it could happen to any of you.

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