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Patients who still feel healthy expect to live until a cure is found AIDS: 10 YEARS LATER


Tema Luft, a 39-year-old, middle-class woman living with AIDS, says she's "shopping around" for a new anti-AIDS drug.

She is unable to take AZT, the only approved anti-AIDS drug, because it caused severe anemia that put her in the hospital every month for transfusions. And now, the experimental drug, dideoxyinosine -- known as ddI -- is no longer working for her.

Luft has been on ddI for 17 months and for a while her T-4 cells were up to 680 "and I felt marvelous," she said yesterday. Now, they've dropped to 400 and "I want to catch this before it gets bad."

But is she down? Never.

Like Joseph Holliday, a 31-year-old homosexual active in the People with Aids Coalition in Baltimore, Luft is optimistic. They both live a healthy lifestyle and believe that new drugs now in the pipeline will help them live even longer and better. Both have progressed from HIV infection to full blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Luft said she is feeling so well these days that "in my mind I have gone back to ARC," or AIDS-related complex, her initial diagnosis.

According to Holliday, he has learned "how to control this disease and not let it control me."

They're not the only AIDS patients around who have gotten a break.

Another is a 2 1/2 -year-old Baltimore boy. His mother is an intravenous drug user with AIDS, but he now lives with a nurse he met at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, her husband and their 16-year old son in Howard County.

"He's like my son to me," Deborah, the nurse, said yesterday at the University of Maryland Medical Center where the youngster was being treated for an infection. She has become his legal guardian.

Deborah recalled that on one of the mother's rare visits to see her child at Mount Washington, she said, "I don't think I can watch this child die."

Later, after seeing the nurse interact with the boy, the mother said, "My boyfriend thinks I should give him to you."

If people understood the disease process, a lot more of them would overcome their fear of AIDS and become knowledgeable, according to Deborah.

"When you have fear, you react emotionally, you never use intelligence," she said. "Once people become more informed, there will be no stigma attached to these children and this disease."

Luft says she contracted the disease about 5 1/2 years ago from a former boyfriend who has since moved out of Maryland.

She still works a 40-hour week with the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. in Reisterstown and now lives with Charles Gerhardt, a C&P; union leader, who met Luft during a strike. He is not infected with the deadly human immunodeficiency virus.

"He's just been tested," Luft said. "I kept bugging him to do it just to make me feel a little extra good about the relationship. It would make my life unbearable if I thought I had given it to him because I love him very much."

When Gerhardt, 44, first met Luft he thought about running as far and as fast as he could, he said, "but I very much admired the way she handled her situation. And, the next thing I knew, I was caught up in a real romance."

Luft remembers "he was scared to death of me at first." Then, she adds, "But, he took up the challenge and we have been together for almost a year."

Luft is upset about the way the AIDS epidemic is going. "I think it's taking a back seat and people are becoming very lackadaisical about it," she said. "No one thinks it's a problem anymore, college kids especially.

"I've been to a couple of colleges, and when I talk to those kids about AIDS, they say, 'Oh, only lesbians and homosexuals get it.' Evidently, they are not being educated. So many women think they are immune to this. And, they are getting lazy because they say they don't want to break the spontaneity of the situation."

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