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Walking for Paul

By Stephanie Dunlap · September 7th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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In 1992, June Delph's son wrote from California to break the news to his parents that he had AIDS and he'd landed in the hospital.

"We didn't know he was gay either," she says. "It was like a double whammy."

So on Sept. 17, seventysomething June, her husband Harold and their daughter Linda Arnest will walk five miles along Cincinnati's riverfront in honor of Paul Delph, who came home to die in 1996.

The annual Red Ribbon Walk for AIDS raises money for Aids Volunteers of Cincinnati (AVOC). Arnest turned to an AVOC support group for the family and friends of people with HIV/AIDS for help dealing with her brother's illness. AVOC then referred her mother to the support of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

In 1996, when the Delphs moved Paul home and June gave up her real estate practice to care for him, AVOC helped set up home nursing and transferred Paul's Medicare benefits from California to Ohio.

Usually the Paul Delph walking team brings in somewhere around $1,500, but one year they raked in $3,257 for AVOC, June says.

AVOC began in 1983 as a network of volunteers working from their homes to provide support to friends and family suffering from both AIDS and the social stigma that came with it, according to Kathy Nardiello.

Nardiello has chaired the annual Red Ribbon Walk for AIDS for 15 of its 16 years and served five years as AVOC's board president.

She hooked up with AVOC in 1985 after watching the chilly reception Cincinnati gave a friend's brother with AIDS.

"The kind of treatment and the kind of looks he would get were unbelievable," she says.

She saw nurses who refused to deliver food trays to AIDS patients, instead leaving them outside hospital room doors. She saw AIDS sufferers losing health insurance and being forced out of jobs. Often they were left with only the support of their families, and sometimes even families turned away, unable to stomach the disease's association with both homosexuality and drug use.

The good news is that the understanding of HIV/AIDS and its sufferers has drastically improved. The other good news is that HIV/AIDS is no longer an acute disease heralding death within a year or two.

On the flip side, the bad news is that HIV/AIDS has become a chronic and debilitating illness. Living longer can mean a longer period of time scraping up money for expensive drugs and a longer stretch of unemployment, too. That's led to necessary shifts in AVOC's support services, though preventative education is the same.

The disease's decreasing visibility has also had financial repercussions for AVOC. The Red Ribbon Walk remains the $2 million organization's biggest fund-raiser, helping support about 25 staff and 700 volunteers, who at any given time are providing services to 2,000 of the 4,000-6,000 HIV- and AIDS-infected people in the Tristate region. But the charity walk used to pull in twice the $125,000 a year it's raised for the past five years, Nardiello says.

"Due to complacency about the disease and people living longer and people not thinking the disease is so critical, that has changed people's giving patterns," she says.

In fact, many people mistakenly see the drug cocktails that are staving off death with increasing success as some kind of cure.

"The people who are on these cocktail medications, they live daily with horrendous side effects," Arnest says. "It's really hard to watch someone go through that."

Paul Delph, a one-time piano student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, died at 39 surrounded by his family.

Registration and a complimentary breakfast starts at 8 a.m. Sept. 17 at Sawyer Point's Yeatman's Cove. Starting at 9 a.m., about 1,200 walkers will snake along the river, dip into Covington and return for a post-event lunch. To learn more or register, visit www.avoc.org.



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