Stamford CARES helps HIV patient rebuild life
STAMFORD — A. Gordon Batiste had nearly given up on life when he came across Stamford CARES.
Living with HIV, down on his luck, recovering from a serious drug habit, and spending his nights in a homeless shelter, Batiste found hope through a timely meeting with workers at the HIV/AIDS support organization.
The New Haven resident has since earned a degree in medical administration and gotten his life in order, even as he battled HIV for the last 25 years. Stamford CARES turned into a lifeline for Batiste, helping him find housing and work, and even paying his electric and medical bills.
“They have helped me and allowed me to believe in myself,” Batiste said. “They allowed me to be a human being again.”
One person at the organization had a major influence on Batiste’s life. Andre Campos, a senior medical case manager at Stamford CARES, has been Batiste’s counselor for the past decade.
“I can call up Andre and say, ‘I don’t know where to go,’” Batiste said. “He’s a gift from God.”
Saturday is World AIDS Day, an annual commemoration to remember those who have died from the virus and raise awareness to how people can remain healthy and prevent contracting the disease.
Nearly 37 million people worldwide have HIV, 1.8 million of whom are children, according to HIV.gov. About 5,000 people contract HIV every day and 1 million people die each year due to AIDS-related illness.
Batiste is hoping World AIDS Day can help spread the message that HIV/AIDS is still very serious.
“People, we need to still be very aware of our health and also know that there is help out there for people who don’t know where to turn or what to do,” he said.
His concern is that people are letting their guard down and being careless again about their sexual activity.
“I feel like there has been a lull and people are starting to get crazy again and its forming new strains of this disease, and it’s a killer,” he said.
About 10 years ago, Batiste moved back to Connecticut from Florida. At the time, he was a “very ill man,” he said, a result of a weak immune system and a bad crack cocaine habit. Batiste contracted HIV in Danbury, a result of sharing a dirty needle, in 1992.
At one point, his CD4 count — which tests the amount of white blood cells that fight infection in your body — came back at an alarming tally of six. A normal range is 500 to 1,500.
Batiste ended up at McKinney Stamford, a transitional shelter for homeless people, and eventually found help through Stamford CARES, getting access to health care and other services.
Three years after his low CD4 test, Batiste’s count skyrocketed to 400.
Over the years, Batiste has become an advocate for the HIV community, and has volunteered for the Stamford organization.
The 59-year-old has gone to Washington, D.C. to speak to elected officials and advocate for funding for organizations such as Stamford CARES and other programs.
“The importance of Stamford CARES is that anybody who has AIDS or is HIV positive has a place to go to help cure their hurt, their wants, their needs, or find a way to direct them to someone who can help,” he said.
For more information about World AIDS Day, visit worldaidsday.org.