A student reflects on his experiences as an HIV-positive member of the Loyola community
Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 18:04
As New Orleans honors World AIDS Day this week, Dominic Clust cannot help but reflect on how his life was turned upside down last year after he was diagnosed with HIV.
Clust, theater communication junior, found out he was infected with human immunodeficiency virus after a routine screen testing at Student Health last September.
A year later, Clust is optimistic about his future.
“We found it early, and I am going to live a normal life,” Clust said.
HIV is a virus that harms the immune system. If the virus is left untreated, it can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS, the final stage of the HIV virus, damages the immune system cells, T-Cells, to the point that a person’s body cannot fight against any viruses. Though HIV and AIDS can be treated and prevented, there is no cure for either.
Clust first turned to Student Health to get tested for any sexually transmitted diseases. Clust said that every member of the Student Health staff was very helpful when he was first diagnosed.
“We offer as much physical support and as much mental support as possible,” said Alicia Bourque, administrative director for Counseling and Student Health Services. Bourque said Student Health offers discounted screen testing, referrals on insurance and services, and free counseling for students diagnosed with HIV.
After his diagnosis, Student Health sent him to NO/AIDS Task Force, a non-profit organization that provides education, counseling, financial support and assistance with prevention and spread of HIV.
Clust regularly visits NO/AIDS for blood tests, medication and support.
NO/AIDS is a “one-stop shop so people don’t have to go all over the city to help out,” said Nick Parr, NO/AIDS employee.
According to Parr, the NO/AIDS mission is to be a source of support and assistance for people impacted by HIV and to assist with the prevention and spread of the infection. There are two main offices that offer outreach, testing, education and services for care, treatment and prevention as well as emotional care.
In 2009, more than 8,200 people between the ages of 15-24 were diagnosed with HIV, and 2,500 people between the ages of 15-24 were diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control website. According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals website, in 2007, New Orleans ranked second for AIDS case rates among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States while Baton Rouge ranked third.
Clust said he is thankful for the help he receives from NO/AIDS.
“They don’t treat it as a doctor’s office. They try to make it like home as much as possible,” he said.
Clust said his regular nurse at NO/AIDS, Carol Pindaro, has been a big help and a big support by being honest with him and making the check-ups seem normal. Pindaro supported Clust when he decided to take medication for the first time since he was diagnosed.
But NO/AIDS and Student Health were not Clust’s only means of support. Clust turned to his friends in the theater department for moral support.
“I couldn’t have survived my sophomore year without them,” he said.
What is important for Clust is to stay healthy and prevent the spread of HIV. “It’s my mission to tell everyone I am in a relationship with that I am infected, because I do not want this to happen to anyone else,” Clust said.
Jamie Futral can be reached at email@example.com
Hannah Iannazzo contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org