My Story

Roger Walcker

I was working as a facilities planner for Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY. I had it made! I was earning almost $70,000 a year. I had just bought a new Honda Civic a bouight a fine home in Vestal, NY. In July, 2006, I felt I was geetting the flu so I went to Dr. Bailey in Vestal. He asked me to giev blood and I was to return the following Thursday afternoon for the results. Dr. Bailey stood over me a changed my life forever when he said: "Roger, your tests show you are HIV+. It's the virus that can cause AIDS." I was stunned and immediaetly remembered my gay friends in Houston and Dallas who had contracted this damn virus in the early 1980s. There were no HIV / AIDS doctors or nurses, no meds, no hope only depression and certain death. Within a year, all my friends had contracted full-blown AIDS. Within 18 months all had died a horrible degrading deaths. Oh my God, I was next! As I sobbed I asked him how long I had to live. "Three months at the most!" he said. I called my mother in The Dalles, Oregon , my home town and told dher about veing HIV+ and my death sentence. We sobbed together and she said she would help. She did and called Roger Ward, my best friend of 35 years. I do not reemebner July or August 2006, but this is what Roger Ward told me. I was diagnosd with AIDS-related dimentia in Binghamton, NY and The Dalles. I was in the hospital in Binghamton for the last 3 weeks because I was wandering in the streets and the doctor was afraid I woudl get run over and killed. I was not in control of my body functions, so they put me in Depends diapers. Roger Ward convinced the hospital administratyors I was health enough to travel. I was in fact very close to death. I was life-flighted from Syracuse NY to Portland and driven home in The Dalles to die. I do reember Lila Wright, my mother holding me and sobbing and telling me it would be all OK. My sister, Lou Anne Kelley was my Power of Attorney. She was 8 tyear younger than me. Lila worked for JC Penneys in downtown The Dalles for 25 years and then retired. My sister cleaned house for a living. Mom said hey would let me rest for awhile. Some time later, a nurse wheeled in an electronic scale. The scale read 95 pounds. I had lost 85 pounds. I could not walk, so I asked the nurse to take me to a mirror. I WAS the face of my gay friends in Texas who had died of AIDS! I looked like a skeleton. My skin color way gray. When I looked in my eyes, Death stared back. I prayed to God to grant me a Miracle, that I would live and thrive. Dr. Charles Miller was my doctor in The Dalles. He prescribed 22 pills day. Afterb a week, I felt a little stronger physically. With mom and Lou Anne's help and encouragement, I felt better and better. After 3 weeks, I was feeling so good I was able to get out of my damn wheel chair. I was told in those 3 weeks, I had fallen 7 times. I remember 2 times, they were very painful and very embarrasing. My mind and my body were not coordinated at all. After a week, I started to walk, just baby steps, baby steps. After anoher 2 weeks, I could actually walk to the front desk and back, using the hand rails. I was walking! I had not appreciated the simple act of walking until I couldn't do it anymore. I began to remember, short term at least. I was even able to laugh again.m This WAS God's Miracle! What did I learn from the brush with death: To accept God's unconditonal love and to give that love to everyone I ever met. I would treat eveyone with tolerance and to be God's conduit for His love." God guided me to Linda and Brian Stahl. they said they had 2 sons ther were very proud of. Taylor, the youngest, lived in NYC. Nathaniel was gay and lives in San Francisco with his partner. They said I was their 3rd son. After 2 visits, Linda asked what my T-cell count was. I have never heard then term. She explained how T-cells were my body's immune system, that 500 was normal , 200-500 you took your med every day without fail and that below 200 was considered full-blown AIDS. She asked me if they took blood. Yes every month. We went to the front desk and aked for my most recent blood work report. My T-cell count was 46, very close to death. Maybe Dr. Bailey was right after all, I really was going to die. I called Dr. Miller and asked him to help. He recommended Dr. James Sampson, Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, who is a HIV/ AIDS specialist. I called his offfice and was told to come ASAP. After a week, I was taken with my chaparon to see Dr. Sampson. He took my hand, looked my in the eyes and said: "Roger, you are NOT going to die. I will prescribe stronger meds, fewer meds. I am involevd with many HIV/ AIDS projects. Every month you will thrive, I promise. Roger, you are NOT going to die!" I cried unashamedly. Dr. Sampson had given me my life back. He was SO right. Every month I got better and better. I was safe in The Dalles with Lila and Lou Anne to care for me. Lou Anne signed me up for SSD, Medcare and Medicaid. She bought all my furniture and kept track of my finances. For Thanksgiving we all got together at Lou Anne's house. I asked her for a great Christmas present, a flat screen TV. She bought me a 42" Sharp TV monitor. It is a black piece of scupture. In the middle of December, Lou Anne went to visit mom. Lila was unconscious on her living room floor. She called 911 and followed the ambulance to Mid Columbia Hospital. the doctor said Lila had suffered a masive heart attack and he was sending her by ambulance to Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital for open heart surgery the next morning or Lila would die! Oh no, dear God, please save Lila Wright, I prayed. The next afternoon Lou Anne drove back from the hospital. Lila had a 4 1/2 hour open heart triple-bypass surgery. She was in the ICU. When can we see her? We cannot because of infection. Two days later, she had a 2nd surgery a plastic surgern had to give her a new sternum, which had been cut to get to her heart. Then it was Christmas, not a happy time for the Kelleys or for me. But Lila was still alive a recovering. On the 28th, Lou Abbe said ,om;s doctir had called. Her kidneys had failed and she was on 24-hour Kidney dialysis. Mom would go in for a 3rd surgery tomorrow. This was very serious, I asked? Very! Lila had a 3 1/2 hour surgery and her kidneys were functioning and her body color was returning to normal. God HAD answered my prayers! Mom was going to live! About 1:30pm Saturday December 30th, Lou Anne called and said her kidneys had failed and her body was sutting down. Within 2 hours she would die. Lou Anne would call me with the news. My mother was dying at that moment. I would never get to hold her and kiss her and tell her how much I loved her. I would never receive her unconditional love again. A black cloud of depresion formed over me. That was the worst afternoon of my life. Lou Anne neber called, but she did come into my room at 5:30. Mom had died a half hour ago. No dear God, no! That black cloud became a black tornado. It sucked everything from me: my intelligence, my reason to live, my humor. Everthing was black. I was a black husk and the future was totally black. The only thing I thought of was to commit suicide. For two days I prayed to God for guidence. then God's voice said: "Roger Walcker, don't be so damn selfish. Don't be so damn selfish. Think of others before you do this to yourself. How would it affect your family and friends? they wold be devestated and destroyed! Do I want that? No I do not. Do not be so selfish! Do NOT commit suicide!" That WAS God's answer, loud and clear. I called Lou Anne. We wanted celebrate Lila's life not grieve for her death. Mom was to be cremated the next day. Roger drove down from Tacoma. We laughed and cried together. Gary Kelley, Lou Anne's husband spoke for the family. He spoke with passion and tenderness. Glenna Greenslade, who was HR for Columbia Basin, where I was living, suggested I move to Portland. The Dalles was my home town, but it is small, 12,000 popel. No LGBT cimmunity and no HIV / AIDS community. I connectd with Frankie Simmons who lived on SE 26th and Powel. she came to the dales with Ricky Clark andother gay man who is also HIV+. We hit it off immediately and scheduled me to move in 3 weeks. A week later, Lou Anne and Gary ame into my room. She said she had not been feeling well, so she went to her doctor, who asked her to give blood. They had just been to the doctors for the results. Lou Anne said she had been diagnosed wih diabetes. I held her and then she said she had also been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She said Death and Dying several times. then said said she coul ysmpathized with me coming close to death those two times (both HIV-related). Do the kids know? Yes. Are you going to be treated in Portland? No, Celilo Cancer Center in Th Dalles was great. They were going to the Coast for a long weekend and then hire an oncologist. His name was Dr. David Fu and he was terrific! Dr. Fu asked Lou Anne to get another X-ray. The cancer had spread to her liver. She asked Roger and me to come for BBQ ribs. She was too weak to do the work but she supervised. Lou Anne was too weak to even play Scrabble. The week before I moved to Porkland, Gary came to my room a delivered my favorite tweed suit coat, my shoes and my luggage. I went downstairs and she said she was very happy I was moving to Portland. A week later, I called her and asked if she could see me. no, she was too weak She was sleeping 20 hours day and had hired a hospice nurse. A week later, I called and talked to Gary. How is Lou Anne? Not well and he hung up. An hour later I got the call, Lou Anne Kelley had just died. She wanted her ashes and Lila's to be mingled together and placed in an urn. Roger drove from Tacoma. It was raining in Portland. By Hood River, the rain had stopped. By The Dalles, it was sunny and 75 degrees. Since Gary was an ex-marine, her internment was in the Military Cemetary. There on a tombstone were 2 cardboard boxes of Lila's and Lou Anne's ashes together. I almost collapsed at the sight. I would have given my life for that of Lila's or Lou Anne's gladly. The next weekend was Lou Anne's Memiorial service. It was very touching, her life in pictures. On the way back to Portland, I mentioned my twed suit coat. Roger Ward asked if it was my favorite. Yes, I loved that coat. Roger Ward said Lou Anne was saving it for me. Saving it for me? Saving so I could be cremated in it! Roger Ward said for the first 2 months after I had been admitted to Colunbia Basin, every time the phone rang, he thought it was going to be THE CALL saying I had died. Only 2 people thought I was going to live, God and me! I firmly believe God has saved me so that I can tell my story to others. I wear the red AIDS ribbon on everything I own. I have told many straight and gay men and women my story. So many young straight men have said they have several gay friends, but have never talked to someone who was HIV+ and that my story was a blessing. They would almost always give me a hug. I now live in downtown Portland, Oregon. Last Octievr 3rd, I was one on 12,000 Walkers in the 2010 AIDS Walk. We earned $420,000 for Cascade AIDS Project, both all-time records. I Marchjed in the Gay Pride last June. It was so rainy, I had to unfurl my gay pride umbrella. Four of us huddled beneath, 3 gays and one lesbian. There were 119 groups who Marched that glorious June day. I still take my 17 pills day and will until a cure is found for this damn virus, but I am healthy and content with my life and as God is my witness, with my life's work, to tell my story with honesty and passion! God bless us all!