Hundreds Gather With Heartbreak and Hope at San Francisco AIDS Memorial - NBC Bay Area
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Hundreds Gather With Heartbreak and Hope at San Francisco AIDS Memorial

On 25th anniversary of Golden Gate Park Circle of Friends memorial, families, friends remembered loved ones

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    It was a night of heartbreak and hope Wednesday as nearly 1,000 people gathered at the National AIDS Memorial in Golden Gate Park. Terry McSweeney reports. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016)

    It was a night of heartbreak and hope Wednesday as nearly 1,000 people gathered at the National AIDS Memorial in Golden Gate Park.

    On the 25th anniversary of the memorial, hope has emerged that an HIV/AIDS vaccine may be close. But it's heartbreaking to many that it didn't come in time for those being remembered and celebrated.

    At the AIDS Memorial's Circle of Friends, people carried candles for loved ones lost to the disease and placed them next to that person's engraved name.

    "Tears really. Once you see an engraved name, it brings you to reality," Don Bering said.

    Win Sutanto of the Netherlands, lost his partner Hank 16 years ago.

    "I feel his presence. He's with me all the time," Sutanto said. "But here I feel him around me, and he's happy where he is now."

    The mother of Ryan White was in attendance. Her teenage son was infected with HIV during a blood transfusion in 1984. White's case gained national attention when fear of the then-little understood disease led parents urge his Indiana school to kick him out.

    "We don't want people to die alone, especially with the AIDS epidemic," Jeanne White Ginter said. "This is our way of communicating to people how great these people's lives were."

    Along with song and celebration at Wednesday night's gala fundraiser, there was reason for optimism.

    "The greatest hope we have today is through PREP, which is a pre-exposure prophylaxis drug by Gilead here in the Bay Area, Truvada, which blocks the transmission of the virus," said John Cunningham, executive director of the AIDS memorial.

    While the rate of HIV is dropping overall, it's not decreasing for all groups.

    "The incidents of new infections are rising in the African-American male population," Cunningham said. "Mainly in the South, where there is a lack of access to health care."

    There is motivation to find a cure, as Lori Messina was motivated to find her lost friend, Joseph Norton.

    "He died before the medications came in the mid-80s, so it's sad, very sad," Messina said. "I have a lot of fabulous memories, and I'm grateful to be here."

    Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised during the San Francisco gala to maintain the memorial as a place to remember the 700,000 Americans and 35 million worldwide who have died of AIDS.

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