Leslie, a patient of Dr. Alex Dworak at OneWorld Community Health Centers, is a middle-aged man with an impressive background. His resume boasts a bachelor’s degree, an MBA, a Master of Divinity degree, a Doctor of Divinity degree, a Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures, and an unfinished degree in Germanic languages and literatures. At one time, he was the director of a prominent local museum, and he also worked extensively in fundraising — for him, a “bad day” was raising only $500,000.
Leslie has also been HIV-positive for 24 years, now considered a long-term survivor.
“There was such fear about letting anybody know,” he said about the era when he was diagnosed with HIV. “I just quietly held it all together and held it inside … All of a sudden one day, I was referred to as a long-term survivor, and I didn’t know what that meant because I hadn’t heard that term before. And then I realized that is true — I have survived way beyond what was the initial thought, and I was still going on.”
According to Leslie, keeping a good attitude has been important for him while living with HIV. In addition to practicing meditation daily, he keeps himself busy by staying involved in the arts and humanities.
Despite his successful career and fulfilling life, Leslie’s health journey has not been an easy one.
“When I was first diagnosed, I tried all the new medications — I had some reactions to those medications, some problems, some surgeries that were not too nice,” he said.
Though he has found a medication routine now, he still struggles with other health issues in addition to HIV. A recent diabetic episode took a particular toll on his emotions.
“It all just came together, and I fell apart,” he said.” I was at Hy-Vee, and I got to the car, and I started weeping, and the next thing I know, I started crying.”
Living as a long-term survivor of a disease that has taken the lives of so many before him can be an isolating experience, but Leslie takes comfort in knowing that he can put his trust in Dworak to provide him with the medical care he needs. He has been a loyal patient of Dworak’s for nearly eight years.
“I sing his praises very highly,” he said. “I’m pretty critical of doctors and other people, but I have not found any problems. He listens to me. I ask him questions; he gives me honest answers. … I really think he’s just top-notch. I’m very glad he has this commitment to what he does, to the disadvantaged, to the underadvantaged.”
Moving forward, Leslie hopes to start a support group for other long-term HIV survivors. Since friends have told him he has always been able to “hold it all together and help others,” he wants to reach out to other people facing similar challenges.
Armed with the powers of positive thinking and quality health care, Leslie is prepared to face whatever the future holds for him.