More than 100 Carroll Community College students and teachers listened in numbed silence as Sharon Lund spoke frankly of her decade-long battle with AIDS.
Many were visibly startled as the speaker pounded the lectern with her fist and pierced the silence with a loud, "Wake up!"
"Some of you are playing games with your lives," she said Monday. "AIDS is preventable, but the numbers keep rising."
Twelve years ago, Ms. Lund was not among those numbers. She was teaching people with life-challenging illnesses techniques to heal body, mind and spirit. Now, at 44, Ms. Lund is an AIDS statistic, a heterosexual woman who has used those same techniques to survive the AIDS virus for nearly 11 years.
She appears frequently on television talk shows and college campuses with a message of living in the Age of AIDS and an exhortation to others, particularly students, to protect themselves from the disease.
Ms. Lund brought her message of "living life to the fullest" to Carroll and Essex community colleges this week.
When she asked for a show of hands of those who knew a person infected with the AIDS virus or dead from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, nearly half the hands in the room at the Westminster college went up.
"Two years ago, there might be one hand," she said. "Look to your right and left. You can't say who is infected and who isn't. An HIV person can look and feel healthy and go many years without sickness."
She cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that indicate one of every 95 U.S. college students is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. That is more than twice the 1993 figure of one in 200. Maryland ranks 10th in the nation for HIV and AIDS patients.
"With those numbers, I am probably not the only person infected in this room," she said. "It is ignorance to think that AIDS can't happen to someone on your campus."
She urged teachers to find a message that would reach students.
"AIDS 101 is not working when you have 24 percent of all AIDS patients in the 20-to-26 age range," she said.
Ms. Lund contracted HIV in 1984 during a brief second marriage to a man who didn't tell her of his infection. Two years after the marriage ended, she saw her former husband appear as an AIDS patients in a documentary film. "I just started screaming and screaming," she said.
Her former husband died four years ago. She said she long ago buried her anger at him and at her illness. "What I am angry about is the rising numbers of those contracting the virus," she said. "AIDS is preventable when each and every person takes responsibility for their lives."
She returned to the prevention message over and over during her hourlong lecture. She discussed means of infection from bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. "Any time you share bodily fluids, you are putting yourself at risk," she said.
She stressed universal precautions and preventive measures. "If you help a person who is bleeding, assume that person is infected and use a barrier," she said. Since most people don't carry gloves, she suggested substituting an article of clothing.
She urged the sexually active to use condoms and showed the audience a female condom, soon to be marketed locally.
"The only person safe from the virus is the abstainer," she said.
"If you are sexually active, use a condom and use it consistently. Don't play Russian roulette with your lives.
"You may know your partner, but what about your partner's partners? If your partner won't use a condom, take responsibility for your own life."
She also dealt with the prejudice that surrounds her illness.
"This is not a gay man's or a drug abuser's disease," she said. "I am a heterosexual woman, part of the fastest group becoming infected with HIV."
Because she contracted the disease from a man who deceived her, she often is "looked at as an innocent victim," she said.
"It shouldn't matter how anyone gets the virus. We all deserve the same compassion and love," she said.
When she opened the discussion to questions, she promised candid answers.
"How do you deal with knowing you are going to die?" a young man asked.
"Everybody knows they are going to die," she answered. "I am living life to the fullest right now."
She concluded her talk saying, "You can make a difference to others. Share what I have said."
Many lingered after the lecture. One student approached Ms. Lund gingerly.
"I just wanted to shake your hand and give you a hug," the young woman said.
Ms. Lund smiled, wrapped the student in her arms and thanked her.
"Touch AIDS patients; hold them; hug them," she said. "They need that really bad."