By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published November 23, 2006
An eye doctor recently told Patrick Josey he was developing a cataract.
The doctor was puzzled by Josey’s joyous reaction.
“He said he’d never seen someone get so excited about a cataract. But I told him that I never thought I’d live long enough to develop cataracts,” Josey said.
Josey was officially diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and has lived nearly 25 years with the virus. Coincidentally, this year also marks the 25th year of the AIDS pandemic. In the days surrounding Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, events around the country, the world and in the Archdiocese of Atlanta will join people together to remember those who have died and to renew their commitment to fight the deadly virus.
But millions of people like Josey have been quietly fighting their own battle with infection.
On a blustery day, Josey speaks about his struggles with and triumphs over HIV at the Grady Infectious Disease Program building on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
The parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Atlanta is a small man—he’s never weighed over 142 lbs. in his life he says. Though soft-spoken, his hands are expressive as he speaks, and behind his round wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes are at times full of both great hope and deep sadness.
“Some days I feel very fortunate and happy just to be alive. But there are some days that I’m very sad. I’ve lost so many good friends,” he said. “I never expected to know so much about death and dying and grieving.”
Josey, a native Atlantan who holds a master’s degree in library science from Emory University, was living in Washington, D.C., when he was first diagnosed.
“I recall a lot of confusion. There was a lot of fear and angst in those days. People were afraid of even the word (AIDS),” he said.
Josey admits there was a time after he was first diagnosed that he lost hope. After a brief turn to drugs, he began to get his life back on track.
He moved back to Atlanta recently, a move that changed his life.
“There was a time that I really dealt with loneliness. Here, I’m alone, but I’m not lonely. I get a lot of support here. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad to be back attending Lourdes. People may not know me there, but they know my family,” he said. “It’s home. It’s where I belong.”
Our Lady of Lourdes has long had an extremely active AIDS ministry. The ministry, named Simon’s Call, is led by Deacon Chester Griffin and his wife, Janis, who has known Josey since the first grade when they both attended Our Lady of Lourdes School. She has been involved in AIDS ministry for 20 years and has “lived through the changing face of AIDS.” The disease, that was once considered a “gay, white male” issue, now affects a growing number of women and minorities.
“It’s scary. I see these women, and they could be my sister,” she said.
The mission of Simon’s Call, Griffin said, is to “fight the disease through prayer and education.” Father John Adamski, pastor of Lourdes, has been on the front lines of AIDS ministry since it began in the archdiocese 20 years ago.
“He’s out there, walking the walk and talking the talk. He’s not afraid to have the discussion,” Griffin said of Father Adamski. “In order to address a problem, you have to bring it out of the darkness, and he realizes that.”
Simon’s Call puts on an annual workshop, a special Lenten Stations of the Cross, and serves brunch at The Edgewood, a division of Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
The ministry also raised around $3,000 at the annual AIDS Walk and has an ongoing AIDS quilt project.
This year Josey participated in the AIDS Walk for the first time. At a Mass, Father Adamski said a special blessing for the walk participants.
“I stood up wearing that T-shirt with pride,” Josey said. “For years I couldn’t bring myself to participate. But I don’t have anything to hide.”
Medication has “done wonders” for him, Josey said. He recently went on a new regimen that reduced the number of pills he must take on a daily basis.
“That’s a big deal. It’s still not easy. I used to be able to travel with just a toothbrush. It’s a whole other life when you take medication and have to watch what you eat. Sometimes I’m paralyzed, trying to work my schedule around taking my pills.”
At the same time, Josey knows he has survived for a purpose.
“One of the proudest things I have done is to sponsor someone becoming Catholic. I told someone the other day that I feel like I’m in love because I’m happy about being alive again. My life used to be run by fear, but today I have that enthusiasm about the possibilities that are open to me,” he said.
“I do believe in miracles. I have been brought through a lot of things. And today I have a sense of my spirituality and my faith that I never had before.”