20 years of living with HIV

PHILADELPHIA, PA.; December 1, 2011

20 years ago, when Rich Lampkins was first diagnosed, the outlook for anyone with HIV was grim.

Rich recalls, "What I was told was that I had approximately 5 years to live."

He had seen the long, painful struggle - and the death in 1990 of Ryan White, the Indiana teen who became a poster child for HIV-AIDS.

And he worried his own dreams would be cut short.

"What will happen to me? what will happen to my family? i had all these plans," he says.

At first, Rich was able to keep up his health with AZT, one of the few drugs available for HIV.

About 4 years later, the virus caught up with Rich, and be became so sick he couldn't work.

"My first illness had me hospitalized for about 16 days, which was very challenging for me, because i'd never been that ill," he says.

But he didn't didn't give up, and with new medications, plus good medical and social support, his health rebounded to what he calls -

"Amazing. That's it. amazing," he says with a broad smile and a laugh.

Not all of those with HIV are doing as well as Rich, or former basketball star Magic Johnson.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control said nearly three-quarters of those with HIV don't have the virus under control.

Some don't know they are positive.

Others don't keep up with their medications.

Rich says it's a matter of attitude.

"Get in your mind that taking medication may just be part of your routine, like getting up in the morning and brushing your teeth and having breakfast. If you don't eat breakfast, think of it as your cup of coffee," he says.

"I make a joke that my medication becomes one of my side dishes - i have my meat, my potatoes, and the rest of it."

He goes on, " Compliance is extremely important. and I'm a product of that."

Rich has turned his experience into activism on AIDS. He is now president of the board of Action AIDS, and serves as co-chair for the Philadelphia Ryan White Planning Council.

He urges everyone to "value life," to think about what they do with their body, to prevent HIV infections.

He firmly believes that while HIV can change lives, it can be controlled.

"Without a doubt. I'm a witness to that. I'm a testament to that!" he says.

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