BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — AIDS affects more than 40,000 people in the United States with nearly 1,200 living in Maine.
After millions of deaths from HIV and AIDS over the past 35 years, medical breakthroughs now allow those infected to live nearly normal lives. But some still struggle with the disease and need support.
“I hope I make it to 30, and then 35, and oh, 40,” said Kent Wotten. “I'm like one in a very few that have been so lucky to make it this far.”
Wotten is HIV positive. He found out when he was just 25 years old. Today, he's 58 and lives with his family in Aroostook County. Working on his farm helps him escape.
“It doesn't give you the time to think about it so much and it makes you feel like you're going to be able to beat this disease,” he said.
He had been fighting for over 30 years, but then Wotten's world came crashing down.
“The most difficult part, so far, was losing my partner last year,” he said.
So he turned to painkillers…
‘To try to kill the pain in my heart,” he said.
But it wasn't enough. He said what he really needed was support.
“Knowing that I was strong enough to get away from that and for 6 months I've been doing good, I got myself through it with the love of my family and it's like an accomplishment for me,” Wotten said.
But not everyone has that same support. That's why Maggie Campbell from the Maine Health Equity Alliance says raising awareness is so important.
“It's sort of a call to our community to come together and both remember those who we've lost to HIV and AIDS causes but to also honor those are living with HIV today,” she said.
Nearly one in every eight people who are HIV positive are unaware they are living with the illness.
“When people start to feel a sort of complacency, or they feel like this is an issue of the past, that's when we see transmission rates go up,” Campbell said.
The hope is that education will help with prevention and put an end to the stigma.
“If people could learn that we are just like everybody else and to feel like we're welcome,” he said.
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Copyright 2016 WLBZ