Local News

Sep 3, 2013 5:28 PM by Janine Reyes

HIV/AIDS Still Spreading Across the State and in the Coastal Bend

CORPUS CHRISTI -- Last night's death of 44-year-old former heavy weight boxer and actor Tommy Morrison is bringing an important disease back to light. Morrison tested positive for HIV in 2006, but later denied being infected.

It's not clear if that's what killed him. But HIV/AIDS is claiming lives right here in the Coastal Bend. Teenagers are at the greatest risk of infection.

"I was a Brownie leader, I was all of those things that a mother does," Laurie Lee told us. At 53-years-old, Lee is a lot of things. Mother to two, grandmother to 5, and just two month's ago, fiancee to the love of her life, Bill Gregory.

She keeps his ashes in the living room of her small, but neat RV, in Port Aransas now. He's still close to her heart after a long, hard fought battle. "Bill, he died of cancer and it was AIDS related," Lee told us, "because of the stigma, the perception, even my Bill kept it quiet until the last 5 years of his life."

Laura met Bill through an online dating site, one for people with HIV and AIDs. Looking at her, you'd never guess she carries the disease, same for former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison, who's family now denies it.

Lee found out she had the disease when she left her husband and tried joining the Air Force. "When he said I was HIV positive, I had never heard of that. I thought he was telling me something good," she recalled.

That was 28 years ago. Now, she credits the very disease that's threatening to kill her, with bringing her life. Together, her and Bill lived like they were dying. He did die June 9th.

Lee openly talks about AIDS and HIV, and spent more than 20 years teaching kids about her disease while working as an educator.

She says it's absolutely essential.

Over at the Coastal Bend Wellness Center, director J.R. De La Garza couldn't agree more.

Our numbers are down in the Coastal Bend. "We see anywhere from 100-120 diagnosis per year," De La Garza said. Statewide, the numbers are on the rise. Those with the biggest increase locally may shock you. The rate of infection we're seeing the younger teenagers from 15-17 has increased significantly," De La Garza elaborated.

It's also not a gay person's disease, the latest statistics show nearly a 50/50 split between heterosexual and homosexual people.

"Gay, straight, married, not married, it doesn't matter," Lee said, "if you're sexually active then you need to take responsibility and protect yourself."

Not only protect yourself, but test yourself. At the Coastal Bend Wellness Center, rapid tests are free and take only about 20 minutes. More importantly, they could save lives.

"The scariest part for me is for every person like me who knows they have it, there are 10 out there like me who have no clue," Lee said.

Lee says she hasn't been asked to speak at a school for about 5 years, and that's frightening to her. She says medications are making the disease more manageable, which is great for those infected. But, she worries it's also made people less likely to talk about it.

Find out more about free testing for a variety of STD's and education offered by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation by clicking here.

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