Touro, Planned Parenthood AIDS conference emphasizes healthy living
After staring down the face of AIDS/HIV for 20 years, Jessie Brooks is glad to be alive and about to turn 52, he told a small crowd assembled at Touro University Friday for a conference on staying healthy with the disease.
In fact, Brooks has lived so long after his 1993 diagnosis he is contracting various health problems, such as diabetes, attributed to both his age and the disease he's lived with all these years.
"To me being here is a miracle. I'm grateful to be alive, grateful to be getting gray hair" and to be getting older, Brooks said.
An Oakland resident and journalist, Brooks was keynote speaker for Friday's "Heart 2 Heart -- Taste, Talk and Teach" conference in which participants got information, encouragement and other help in staying healthy while managing their symptoms.
Brooks' face can be seen on billboards, posters and other literature on AIDS/HIV awareness. But reaching that point took a lot of work, particularly in coming out of hiding, shedding secrets and getting out of the shadow of stigma, ignorance and fear, he said.
"The more people that stand up, the further we'll get," Brooks said. "Today, I'm living awesome."
The day-long conference was held to give local residents living with AIDS information and encouragement to embrace healthy lifestyles, including good nutrition, exercise and stress reduction.
"What we're hoping to accomplish with this is awareness that people with AIDS are no longer dying (quickly) but living," Planned Parenthood HIV program manager Monica Shepard said.
"We need to change the message and teach people how to live better," Shepard said.
Solano County AIDS health education specialist Dr. Gregory Yesensky told those gathered at Touro's Farragut Inn that a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence.
Instead, AIDS has become more of a chronic disease, presenting new health challenges as people live longer. Yesensky said as AIDS patients get into their 50s and 60s they have an increase risk of stroke, heart disease and similar ailments which others in the same age range face.
He strongly encouraged participants to stop smoking, get regular check-ups, watch their cholesterol levels and embrace healthy diets which do not include white flour, refined foods and sugars.
The day-long conference was made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Services grant and included a collaboration between Planned Parenthood and Touro University.
Touro students gave AIDS patients osteopathic manipulations, led them in yoga movements and led discussions on nutrition and healthy living.
Meanwhile, Solano AIDS Coalition Executive Director Mario Saucedo and his supporters were on hand with a table of fabrics and other materials so that people could make squares to be used in a large AIDS quilt.
Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 553-6832. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVTH.
Mario Saucedo of the Solano AIDS Coalition sits at a table with quilts he and others have made for an AIDS quilt to be assembled this year. Saucedo was one of dozens to attend a special health conference on AIDS at Touro University Friday. (Sarah Rohrs/Times-Herald)
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