Twenty-six years ago, 65-year-old LBCC student Danny Rafferty and his roommate Andrew decided to get tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after finding out that his coworker Mark was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.
After the three of them took a trip to the Los Angeles Medical Center, Rafferty and his roommate found out they were both tested positive for HIV.
“When I found out, I kind of knew,” Rafferty said. “Mark had driven and he said ‘Come on, let’s go back to the house and have a drink,’ and then I said, ‘No, I just want to be by myself.’ I started walking from Hollywood and next thing I knew I was almost in Encino. I don’t remember how I got there. So it hit me, I didn’t think it would, but it did.”
Four years later, both of Rafferty’s roommates died in 1996 from the disease.
“I have this picture of the three of us when we lived in the house, it was Christmas time and we were in Santa hats with red long underwear sitting on the porch. I’m the only one still alive in that picture, and every time I see that picture it really hits me hard,” Rafferty said.
In the fall of 1998, Rafferty became extremely sick, near death, with a full-blown AIDS diagnosis. He had to quit his job as a bartender, apply for emergency Medi-Cal, and move back to Long Beach from Los Angeles to move in with his mom and step-dad.
Rafferty is a client at St. Mary Medical Care Center and has been a patient since his diagnosis in 1998. He had to visit the hospital once a month to get his blood drawn and was prescribed to a medication called Sustiva. This drug would give him “vivid nightmares,” as he described it.
“I was not on any medication treatment at the time, so I went on a new drug. It was a test drug, I was like a guinea pig,” Rafferty said. “I had to go up to LA once a month to have blood taken and pick up this bottle that just had a number on it. It turned out to be a drug called Sustiva, which has turned out to be almost a miracle drug.”
He consumed about 12 different medications daily, not including test drugs. Until five years ago, Rafferty’s daily medication had reduced to only three drugs instead of 12.
He is currently off Sustiva and instead consumes a drug that has a combination of three drugs, called Genoya.
At the start of the HIV epidemic, the virus was considered to be a death sentence with the number of deaths that were caused by AIDS. Today, if someone is diagnosed with HIV there are medications that will help them live a normal lifespan.
“We now have what’s called PrEp, which is pre-exposure prophylaxis and it is a pill that you can take once a day and the chances of contracting HIV are nill,” Rafferty said. “It’s the upper 90 percent range. If we can get people on PrEp, we can totally eradicate all new cases of HIV and stop it in its path, until they find an antidote to cure it.”
“Back in the 80s and 90s when I was diagnosed, we lost so many people,” Rafferty said. “I mean I had friends and loved ones that were dropping left and right. Today, being diagnosed with HIV is not as discriminatory as it was, but we still have a long way to go.”
This month will mark Rafferty’s 26 years of living with HIV, will be participating in the AIDS walk in Long Beach on Nov. 11 to raise awareness and money toward those in need for treatment. The AIDS Walk Long Beach is sponsored by the CARE center of St. Mary Medical Center.
Executive Director of the CARE center Paul Lovely has known Rafferty since 1999 when he started to receive treatment at the CARE center at St. Mary Medical Center. Rafferty now volunteers every week.
“Danny has a wonderful positive energy and is always committed to helping people with HIV,” Lovely said. “The AIDS walk is important for the Long Beach Community to raise awareness of how HIV affects us and to support those in our area.”
On his free time, when he isn’t at school or live streaming on his own radio show, he volunteers at the St. Mary Medical Center in Los Angeles. For 16 years Rafferty has volunteered to help them by receiving the food, putting the food away, and bagging the food to distribute to patients.
Registered dietician for the CARE center Tammy Basile created a food pantry to distribute healthy food to patients that are in need.
“It’s a huge sacrifice of many people to either those who are positive to get out there and walk or those who are advocates and supporters of HIV,” Basile said. “The stigma is still there and sadly people still think that they’re not going to get it or if you do get it, you just take a pill. It’s just not that easy. So, those people that do walk are still letting people know this is still a problem and to not ignore it.”
Visit centerlb.org/campaign/aidswalklb to register to run on Nov. 11 or donate to centerlb.org/give/dannyrafferty.