World AIDS Day marked at South Tahoe
November 30, 2005
In the time it takes you to read Barry Trammell’s compassionate account as a South Lake Tahoe volunteer, five people will have died as a result of the worst pandemic in human history.
Today is World AIDS Day – a day in which people commemorate yet another year of living with a disease that has claimed 20 million people in every corner of the world since the early 1980s.
On the south shore of Lake Tahoe, the face of AIDS reaches well beyond those who have been inflicted. Twenty-nine people from all walks of life are recorded on the Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation caseload, but that’s not even the half of it. Director of Client Services Maxine Alper said many people either don’t know they’re infected, may be ineligible because of income status or don’t take advantage of services. To this day, the AIDS label still harbors a stigma because of its root of transmission – a sexual encounter, intravenous drug use or blood transfusions.
Foundation volunteer Trammell recalled that at the time he started helping people with AIDS for the former Lake Tahoe AIDS Task Force in the mid 1980s, only one doctor in town specialized in the care.
“The lack of knowledge and ignorance to the disease brought caution,” he said. “People react to their fears.”
Even now, people will ask him why he spends his time doing the work. It’s rewarding but challenging on his own psyche.
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“Most people from the AIDS task force have died,” he said.
His eyes misted over, marking a somber mood over the thought of losing so many people he’s come to know and has gained wisdom from.
“You can’t but get attached,” he said. But the 57-year-old man never had doubts about continuing his volunteer work. He gets his moral support from his wife, Holly.
Trammell, who also volunteers for Barton Hospice, has logged almost two decades of memories in which he’s offered help to those in need. Since many AIDS survivors lose the strength and will to perform even the simplest of tasks, Trammell goes grocery shopping, cleans the house and does the laundry for them.
But the home assistance is as much about mental encouragement as physical help. His motivation is simple.
“Because I’m human,” he said. Trammell, who works for El Dorado County by trade, finds it difficult to understand why others make a big deal of his volunteer work.
“Volunteerism is a matter of the heart, not the wallet. It requires us to reach deep,” he said. “I think we need to be there for each other.”
He’d like to see the government stand by its people – including those suffering from a life-threatening disease.
“It’s difficult to respond to this with a civil tongue,” he said with a sullen stare outside his office.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is aimed at the federal government – “Keep the Promise, Stop AIDS,” and with good reason to those struggling to supply assistance with less funding and a growing infection rate. In the United States, the number in one year has climbed from 40,000 recorded cases to 45,000 in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“That’s because prevention programs have been slashed,” Alper said.
The foundation worker fears that while the number of cases rise, there’s less money to go around to treat their caseload. The federal Ryan White Care Act – which the foundation relies on for the majority of its funding – is up for renewal in Congress next year. And a shift in the Medicare drug benefit plan may require some people to pay more out of pocket.
El Dorado County Public Health Nurse Valerie Rudd said in two years its budget to treat people with AIDS has plummeted from an estimated $130,000 to $26,000. The number of those diagnosed remains a steady 173 year after year. Rudd also worries about the federal government’s commitment – with burdens of hurricane relief, a preoccupation of Iraq and other budget drains.
“Something’s got to give,” she said.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or at email@example.com