A Bob Skinner Story

Bob Skinner of the Valley AIDS Information Network 
Bob Skinner is having what you might call a moment.
The Corvallis man, president and CEO of the Valley AIDS Information Network, was named one of 100 “unsung heroes” in the December issue of POZ magazine, a national magazine that focuses on HIV and AIDS issues.
And the November-December issue of Positively Aware, another national magazine, featured a photograph of Skinner as part of a “One Day with HIV” photo feature, depicting dozens of HIV-positive people in a moment of their lives on the same day, Sept. 21, 2013.
Skinner’s photo shows him at the Eugene Farmers Market. Selling goat cheese. More on that later.
It’s been a long road for Skinner, who’s been HIV-positive since 2000, including stops in San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Alsea and now Corvallis. His passion now is HIV and AIDS education. In his role with the Valley AIDS Information Network, Skinner speaks each year to hundreds of students at Oregon State University, Linn-Benton Community College and high schools about the virus and the disease.
What does Skinner intend to do with this moment, this suddenly heightened profile?
The same work he’s been doing since he first connected with VAIN in the early 2000s: Talking to audiences about his life as an HIV-positive man and trying to convince his listeners that “this is such an easy disease to prevent.”
Skinner believes he was infected with HIV in the early 1990s, probably in Fort Lauderdale. He can’t say for sure, since it can take years for HIV symptoms to develop. He’s blunt about how he was infected: “Poor choices,” he said. “Unprotected sex. The normal way people become infected.”
In 2000, by then living in Fort Lauderdale, he was being ravaged by rapid weight loss, shingles and thrush — all classic HIV symptoms. His father  forced him to visit the doctor. On his 50th birthday, the doctor told Skinner the diagnosis, but on some level it couldn’t have been a surprise.
What likely did come as a surprise, though, was the doctor’s prognosis that Skinner had maybe two months to live.
A drug regimen reversed the course of the AIDS. “I started my medication immediately,” Skinner said, and even today he takes a daily pill to keep AIDS at bay.
In October 2000, Skinner moved to Alsea, where his cousin Nancy Chandler, who owns Alsea Acre Goat Cheese, opened up her home. There, Skinner was able to connect with the Valley AIDS Information Network and started to volunteer. While Skinner was volunteering with the network, OSU was looking for an HIV-positive man to speak at one of its events.
“I said, ‘I can do that.’”
Since that time, Skinner has moved to Corvallis — but he still helps out with the goat cheese business, which explains the photo at the Eugene Farmers Market.
And he’s become a regular in mid-valley classrooms, including frequent stops at an OSU class that examines HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. “It’s probably one of my favorite venues to speak at, to be able to speak at the university level.”
It comes with some aggravation as well, especially in an era when many students believe that AIDS and HIV is yesterday’s news, that it all can be eradicated with one pill. “I can get frustrated about that,” he said. “But I know the message didn’t get through to me” during the years when he contracted HIV.
So for some students, Skinner might try a different tack. Sure, he might say, I take a drug to keep AIDS at bay. Guess what the monthly price tag is for the medication? The answer — about $3,000 — sometimes gets the attention of young people.
The overall message to the students he speaks with: The easiest, cheapest way to deal with HIV is to not contract the virus in the first place. To get tested for the virus — the test now takes just 20 minutes or so to complete. To take simple precautions.
It gravels him that just 3 percent of the nation’s annual HIV/AIDS budget goes to prevention.
And he knows he’ll never shake that sense of loss about the friends he saw die in San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale, two cities that were ravaged in the first wave of the disease. “This disease just took so many incredible lives,” he said.
In fact, before he speaks to a class, “I always take a moment and look up and say, ‘I hope you’re all watching, because I’m doing this for you as well.’”
Source: http://www.gazettetimes.com

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the great testimonials I read about HIV. There is no way to rid out the problem except from staying positive and keep life moving.