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AIDS Turns 30

Aired June 4, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello and welcome. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting to you from Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta -- surrounded by what is the largest piece of community folk art anywhere in the world. It's the AIDS memorial quilt, 200x200 feet roughly here, and it's just a small fraction of it.

The last time the entire quilt was on display was back in 1996.

You know, we don't see the whole quilt that much anymore. But for many people, they're led to believe that the AIDS epidemic is starting to vanish. That isn't the case.


GUPTA (voice-over): June 1981, a set of case reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: five men in Los Angeles with a rare type of pneumonia, their immune systems ruined. They, quote, "did not know each other and had no known contacts." Eventually, all five died.


GUPTA: Since then, more than 25 million people have died of HIV/AIDS around the world and 33 million people right now are living with this disease, a million of them here in this country.

One of those men is Cleve Jones -- in many ways, he is responsible for this quilt that you see behind me. We're going to be talking to him later on the show.

We're also going to be talking to Sharon Stone, a celebrity activist who for more than 16 years has become a face and champion for AIDS research. Let's get started.


GUPTA: Of course, a lot has changed in 30 years. We now know what causes this disease and we do have medicines to treat it up to a point.

But as people have told me over and over again, don't be fooled. It is 2011, but here at the epicenter of this epidemic in Atlanta, in many ways, it still feels almost like 1981.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA (voice-over): For the last 18 years, Angelle Vuchetich has walked through these doors at the Ponce De Leon Clinic in Atlanta. It's one of the largest AIDS clinics in the country.

ANGELLE VUCHETICH, PONCE DE LEON CLINIC: This whole building is more like a day hospital. We have five main clinics, nine subspecialty clinics, all the AIDS services organizations are on site here for support.

GUPTA: It started as a small infectious disease clinic on the grounds of Grady Memorial Hospital 25 years ago when Angelle was charged with crafting a response to the growing AIDS epidemic.

VUCHETICH: We were operating seven days a week, 12 hours a day with 100 percent terminal population.

GUPTA (on camera): Every patient you took care had died.

VUCHETICH: Every patient I took care had died. We --

GUPTA: What was that like emotionally?

VUCHETICH: The fact that these folks are dying does not scare me. The thing that was a challenge was I was told I wouldn't get anyone to work with me.

GUPTA (voice-over): Because at that time, doctors still didn't know how the disease was spreading. There was a lot of fear.

(on camera): What about other doctors or other nurses in the hospital? How did they treat you?

VUCHETICH: I was the AIDS nurse. Most of them didn't.

GUPTA: So, they wouldn't be around you?

VUCHETICH: It was a pretty lonely existence.

GUPTA (voice-over: Today, they have over 5,200 patients, all in advanced stages of the disease.

(on camera): So, what is this area where we're standing?

VUCHETICH: Well, this is treatment and holding. We do infusions through here. Our big piece that's tremendously growing are AIDS- related malignancies.

GUPTA (voice-over): This is the infusion center. They see about 300 patients a month here, about 60 of those are going to need hospitalization.

Vuchetich says for the last decade, the face of AIDS at the clinic has shifted dramatically from white gay to young gay African- American men.

VUCHETICH: They are coming in here with advanced disease and T- cells less than 25. They have all of these infections that a lot of the medical community in the United States as well as the population just believes AIDS is all over in Africa. And we're sitting in an endemic here in the Southeast that to me looks exactly like 1989.

GUPTA: That was the year Frederick Harris was diagnosed.

FREDERICK HARRIS, AIDS PATIENT: I thought my life was over. You know, because at the time, I was a drug user also. And just felt -- because back then, you know, they didn't really give you much time with it.

GUPTA: The 49-year-old is heterosexual. He and his ex-wife, who is also positive, have a 16-year-old daughter. She's negative.

Harris used to take 20 pills a day. Now, he takes four, and he gets regular three-month checkups at Ponce.

(on camera): What is it about this place, this particular clinic, that's so important for someone like you?

HARRIS: The nurses and the doctors really seem concerned. They have a lot of programs to help you, you know, with food and housing and all kinds of things. So, you know, this place gives you practically everything that you'll need.

GUPTA (voice-over): Angelle calls it a medical home, one-stop shopping. Her days are filled with rounds and patient care.

(on camera): What is the biggest change since '81 when we first diagnosed this disease in this country?

VUCHETICH: The biggest change is this is not an illness that should cause someone to die.

GUPTA (voice-over): Harry is a 36-year-old gay man with full- blown AIDS. He doesn't want his identity revealed because he hasn't told his family. He was diagnosed three years ago at Grady. His T- cell count was 120.

"HARRY," AIDS PATIENT: I was kind of scared, well, people don't, you know, see me in a whole different light now that I'm positive. But I had to get my personal feelings out of the way because I knew I need the help.

GUPTA: Harry has a number of health problems. So, for him, the clinic has been a lifeline.

HARRY: It makes me feel good that I can open up and talk to my doctor about stuff going on in my life and he's able to offer not only medicine but advice and give comfort.

GUPTA (on camera): What is the hardest part of this job for you?

VUCHETICH: There are 20-year-olds coming in here with advanced end-stage disease. And that's a bit despairing, when I know that just shouldn't have to happen. GUPTA (voice-over): But it is happening on five floors of this Atlanta clinic. Angelle has witnessed 25 years of suffering, of death, of dying. It's taken its toll. Although she hasn't given up hope, she says she doesn't see an end in sight.

(on camera): How long will you do this job?

VUCHETICH: I don't know. I'm not certain about that.

GUPTA (voice-over): For now, she's committed to training the next generation of nurses.


GUPTA: You are looking it at the AIDS memorial quilt, panels coming from all over the world, made exclusively by the mourners of people lost to HIV/AIDS, so many commemorations here. It's tough to think about this, but it they are 6x3 feet in size. And the reason for that is because that's the average size of a grave.

This particular panel dedicated to Rock Hudson, a commemoration for him. Panels like this, again, I said all over the world in different languages.

The man who really came up with this idea for the AIDS quilt, a man by the name of Cleve Jones, we're going to talk to him about this quilt and about his own struggles with HIV/AIDS. That's next.



RYAN WHITE, AIDS VICTIM: I hope to be the best person that I can be, and I don't know, I just hope to have a good life.


GUPTA: And that is the panel for Ryan White, as you just saw there. Everything you just saw was from the 1980s.

Welcome back to SGMD. Remember the game Trivial Pursuit? According to Trivial Pursuit, the 1980s edition, 1988, 60 percent of Americans considered AIDS to be the number one problem facing America. Think about that, the number one problem facing America back in 1988.

At that time, a man named Cleve Jones was living in San Francisco. He was watching his friends die one by one. And it was then that he came up with the idea for this quilt. He left San Francisco shortly after that. It was just all became too painful for him. But he returned to the city that he loved in the fall of 2010.


CLEVE JONES, GAY RIGHTS & AIDS ACTIVIST: Welcome to San Francisco. Enjoy your stay.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to meet you. It's an honor, actually.

GUPTA (voice-over): On the streets of San Francisco, Cleve Jones is often treated like a celebrity. But 30 years ago on these same streets, in the city's Castro District, Jones and other gay then men were living with the nightmare of a new disease that had no name.

JONES: By 1985, almost everybody I know was dead or dying. We lost 20,000 people in this town.

GUPTA: This deadly disease finally got a name, human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This was long before the days of any lifesaving drug cocktails. And for victims of this disease, chances of survival: slim.

JONES: We cried every day for 10 years in this neighborhood. We buried loved ones every week in this neighborhood.

GUPTA: Cleve was determined to bring attention to what was happening. In 1983, he co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Four years later, he stitched the first panel of the AIDS quilt in this very building. That panel was for his best friend, Marvin Feldman.

JONES: We wanted to reveal the humanity behind the statistics. We wanted to show that every single one of these people mattered.

GUPTA: In 1985, he was diagnosed with HIV. Eight years later, he had full-blown AIDS.

JONES: I was very sick for a long time, and I did not think that I would live.

We've got a meeting at 4:30.

GUPTA: But he survived, with the help of antiretroviral drugs that he's been on now for 17 years. He says he's doing fine now and he's still an activist, currently fighting for the rights of San Francisco's housekeepers. But he cannot forget how the HIV struggle changed him profoundly.

JONES: We went through hell here, and it was a hell that lasted a very long time, took from us some of our best and brightest people. But we endured and we continue. And I'm very proud to be part of that.


GUPTA: Next up, we're talking to Sharon Stone, obviously a well- known actress, but also a champion and an activist for more than 16 years for AIDS research. We'll sit down and talk to her one-on-one, a fascinating discussion. That's coming up next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you? What happened to your face?




GUPTA: That was from the movie "Philadelphia" back in 1993, just a stunning scene. Tom Hanks incidentally won the Oscar for that movie.

Welcome back to SGMD. We are in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.

You know, Hollywood was slow to portray or even acknowledge the AIDS epidemic. But then Elizabeth Taylor came along, started speaking out after her close friend Rock Hudson died of the disease. And now, there's Sharon Stone.



GUPTA (voice-over): There are some movie moments that are just unforgettable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no smoking in this building, Miss Tramell.

STONE: What are you going to do -- charge me with smoking?

GUPTA: Sharon Stone hit the spotlight with this one, "Basic Instinct." Today, she's putting the spotlight on AIDS. She says her commitment to the fight was inspired by the death of her friend and acting coach, Roy London, who died of AIDS in 1993.

Over the past 16 years, Stone has traveled the globe speaking out, and she's helped raise millions of dollars for the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

(on camera): When you started with amfAR it was a three-year term.

STONE: Right.

GUPTA: And you said I'm going to be involved until there's an AIDS vaccine.

STONE: Well, it started with one evening when Elizabeth Taylor wouldn't come.

GUPTA: Right.

STONE: And then after the evening, they said, which I was terrified to fill Elizabeth's gigantic high heels, and they said, could I do three years? And I was freaked out, and I did three years.

And then in three years I just thought, I didn't get this done in three years. How could I not get this done in three years? And then suddenly, I'm in the 16th year of three years, yes.

GUPTA: AIDS vaccine was something that you talked about, though, in terms of a benchmark of success.

STONE: That I really, really wanted to get to. So, we're -- you know, we're human testing. You know, we're trying. But what's happened in the meantime is we have come up with great, great medication. People are living longer and hopeful lives.

GUPTA: Did you have a chance to talk to Elizabeth Taylor about this? I mean, not this message specifically --

STONE: Oh, gosh yes.

GUPTA: What was that like? I mean, was she a role model for you in terms of this mission?

STONE: Yes. She gave so much of herself. She was so brave and so illuminating and so courageous and so thoughtful and so compassionate and had such great spiritual elegance and such dignity and was such a force.

GUPTA: You know, you think about the stickers about HIV/AIDS, you hear about races, people raising awareness about this. Those things seem to have disappeared in a lot of places. You don't hear about it as much. And I always thought it was in some ways people think, look, there's good medications for this now. If I get infected, I will take the drugs.

STONE: I think many things happened. I think a lot of it was just a "don't talk about sexuality," was taken out of our awareness. And I think it's important to have a mature, thoughtful conversation about this.

It's important to have sexual education that keeps us safe, that I don't -- I'm not advocating youthful sexuality at all, but I do think that young people should be very aware what it means so that you can say yes or no thoughtfully. And protect yourself appropriately.

GUPTA: You know, and this is hard as a parent, more so than a doctor. But I have three doctors and they are young. They're 5, 4 and 2. They're very young.

But what age do you think this conversation begins? Presumably too young for my daughters -- but what age do you think?

STONE: I think certainly as young people become aware of themselves sexually at all, as they learn about their sexuality, as they learn about reproduction, they should learn about this just as common sense facts.

GUPTA: In talking specifically about HIV, as potentially a concern?

STONE: Just the way they learn about reproduction, they should learn about safe sex.

GUPTA: So, your mother kept a drawer-full of condoms in the house?

STONE: Yes, by the back door.

GUPTA: I mean, what was -- what was -- did she have a conversation with your kids about this?

STONE: She did not have a conversation about it. I can say that my parents did not have the thoughtful sexual conversation. We didn't know. I didn't know anything.

And I wish that someone had had that conversation with me, because I was very, very naive.

GUPTA: When you think about HIV/AIDS in this country, June 5th, was around the first time someone was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It's been 30 years. I have stats here, 600,000 people have died over that time, Sharon, a million people or so right now living with HIV/AIDS.

STONE: Oh, 1.1 million in the United States, but 33 million worldwide.

GUPTA: Around the world.

Thirty years after it was first diagnosed in this country, when you hear those numbers, what do you think?

STONE: I think that it's a question of not understanding and loving the person next to you. It's separating a person because they're different from you. So, interesting now, is it's the gay community that is raising the money and it's the gay community that is turning this around.

So, these women and these children will be saved by the people that were ostracized in the beginning.

GUPTA: That is interesting. When you talk about the sense of community, you know, loving your neighbor, is that what it's going to take? You talk about the fact we need a vaccine. You're not going to leave amfAR in a leadership role until we get a vaccine. But it sounds like you're talking about something else here, a sort of cultural change.

STONE: I think we are all starting to understand that we're a world culture. We're not going to do anything without everyone. We have to have -- understand that we're all in it together.

We have to -- all the women have to get together to make this happen, all races have to get together to make this world work.

GUPTA: If you had some time with the president now, sounds like you approve so far of the policies towards HIV/AIDS, what would you tell President Obama if you had some time?

STONE: That we have 30 children dying every hour, that half of our people dying of AIDS are women, that we need to really make people aware that HIV can be transferred man to woman, and we need people to really understand that. We need young ladies to understand that, you know, they can get AIDS if they're not protected. They have to demand to be protected with safe sex.


GUPTA: Sharon Stone, she's the global chair for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. It was a fascinating discussion.

Do you remember the term AIDS babies? Something we used to hear about quite a bit. Well; many of those babies have now grown up and some of them are starting families on their own.

Stay with us.



ELIZABETH GLASER, AIDS VICTIM: I am here because it's a matter of life and death. I am in a race with the clock. This is not about being a Republican or an independent or a Democrat. It's about the future for each and every one of us.


GUPTA: Elizabeth Glaser was infected with HIV after a blood transfusion and unknowingly passed the virus on to her two children. She and her daughter Ariel died from complications of AIDS. But her son Jake is alive and doing well.

As things stand now about a million people living in the United States have HIV/AIDS. And about a fifth of them don't know they have it.

It's all the more tragic if one of those people is a pregnant woman. She has about a 25 percent chance of passing on the virus to her child, just like what happened with Elizabeth Glaser.

And also, what happened with Lolisa Gibson. She became infected from her mother and when she decided to have children of her own she was determined not to let that happen again.


GUPTA (voice-over): Lolisa Gibson didn't always want to be a mother.

LOLISA GIBSON, CONTRACTED HIV FOR HER MOTHER: I wasn't ready for a baby. I was too busy focusing on my career and focusing on changing the world. GUPTA: Changing the world by teaching people about HIV. You see at age 17, Lolisa learned she had AIDS. She was watching television when her doctor broke the news to her by phone.

GIBSON: The TV went black. Everything else went black, like nothing else mattered. Now, it was like, wow, I'm going to die.

GUPTA: Lolisa hadn't done drugs. She had had sex but used a condom.

What she didn't know was her mother was HIV positive and had passed the virus on to her, at birth or through her breast milk. She and her mother are now both on medication and in good health.

When Lolisa met Daryl Hunte she told him she had HIV and she insisted on safe sex. But one night, the condoms failed and to her surprise, Lolisa got pregnant.

But unlike her mother, she knew she could protect her unborn child.

DR. ANDREW WIZNIA, PEDIATRIC HIV SPECIALIST: I think the vast majority of infections from mother to child are preventable. There's no reason that an HIV-infected woman, even though they've had the virus since birth, that they cannot have a child.

GUPTA: Lolisa is stuck with her antiretroviral medication. She was tested regularly and after a little Daryl was born, he took ant antiretroviral medication as well. It worked. He's HIV-free, healthy as any little boy you might find.

Lolisa wants to be a role model.

GIBSON: We try to do as many things as we can together to show people, because, again, like there wasn't anyone like that I could see when I first found out. So, just to show people that you can still find love and find happiness or have a good family -- do whatever you want with HIV.

Give him my kisses.


GUPTA: Lolisa also shows us the progress that has been made and some of the goals of Elizabeth Glaser realized.

It's been 30 years since this virus was first diagnosed in the United States. I've been a medical reporter for 10 years. Frankly, I thought today's show might be a little different when I first started. I thought it might be the tale of a vanishing epidemic. I thought it might be a historical perspective on a disastrous pathogen. Well, we are not there yet.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. See you next week.