Butch's Story

In the early days of the AIDS crisis, before the disease had a name, before it had killed 25 million people, before it had infected the 33 million people currently living with HIV, before we knew about this deadly virus, Butch O'Daniel was living in one of the epicenters of the disease: Los Angeles in the early 1980's.

"People in the gay community were split on what they thought of the new illness. People were either in denial; they never thought it would affect them. Or they were scared because the media didn't really cover much of the information, people were unsure of what was really going on. It was really difficult when people started getting sick because we would literally have three funerals to attend in one week. It is an extremely isolating feeling, when all of your friends start to die."

Butch decided to move to Kansas City because he thought that it would be less stressful than LA. In 1989, he needed to have back surgery, so he asked the doctors to do an HIV test before he went into surgery, just to be thorough. Butch remembers waking up from surgery and seeing a pamphlet about HIV sitting on the table next to his hospital bed. "A woman from the billing department came into my room," he recalls, "and she was wearing a mask and rubber gloves. I don't know why she was the one who came in to tell me that I had HIV, but she did. She explained that I probably only had two years to live and that I should make arrangements to pay my hospital bill before I died. It was very scary."

But he was also angry, "not about being HIV positive," he says, "but about the way I was treated at the hospital. I was quarantined and shown little compassion."

With some self-advocacy, Butch overcame that very harsh initial diagnosis, and found a great deal of support from organizations in Kansas City, particularly the Good Samaritan Project. "I have received amazing help," says Butch. "I have been blessed through this whole journey. People have really stepped up to assist me."

In 1994, when the Midwestern winters began to be too difficult for Butch, he moved to Tucson, where he had been visiting since 1971. "I always kept coming back to Tucson, because the Catalina Mountains were always on my mind."

Over the years, his health wavered. "Your life changes completely after your diagnosis and you need to alter your life accordingly. You don't just take one pill a day to treat your illness; I take 27 pills a day just to maintain my current level of health."

In 2006, Butch was at a crossroads. "I was extremely lonely. I'd lost my ability to drive, my friends were dying, and I found that with some of my old friends I didn't have much of a connection with them anymore."

"TIHAN was actually a prescription from my doctor," explains Butch, "and it saved my life. I was very sick, and I was in a lot of pain. I had basically resigned myself to sitting on the couch and waiting to die. I had lost all of my social skills and really didn't want to see people. But my doctor called TIHAN and got me assigned to a CareTeam, and they pulled me out of my depression."

Butch has wonderful things to say about his CareTeam. "The volunteers on my CareTeam began by coming over to my house and introduced themselves and offered to give me rides, because I couldn't drive. I can't tell you how much of a difference they have made in my life. They've seen me through several surgeries and helped me get through so much pain. They really took me under their wing. Just talking with them and sharing our common interests has helped me renew my interest in being around people again. We have movie nights. And we occasionally go out to concerts together. They brought me back to the land of the living."

Butch says that he is very lucky. "My biological family lives in California, and TIHAN is my family in Tucson. I'm not afraid of anything that might happen to me, because I know that I can talk to my CareTeam...."

Butch has been very impressed with the staff and volunteers from TIHAN, giving special thanks to Joan, Will, Cheryl, Barb, Stephanie, Noel, Peggy, and Myron, who passed away last year. Knowing that TIHAN needs more volunteers to get involved, Butch doesn't hesitate to respond: "If you want to volunteer and give your time, you should absolutely do it. If you're feeling powerless and want to help—just call TIHAN. They will teach you everything you need to know and utilize you to make a difference in someone's life—maybe someone like me."

"TIHAN has given me hope, and that is a priceless gift to me. Whether you can give $15 or $15,000, it all adds up, and it adds up to fund important services. I ask you to please make a contribution to TIHAN today. It really is about helping change attitudes, and change lives."

To make a contribution to support the work of TIHAN, please click here or call (520) 299-6647 to make a credit card donation by phone. You can also mail your check, made payable to TIHAN, to 2660 North 1st Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85719-2911.

Thank you for making a difference!


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