From .............. Daily News Miner
September 16, 1996
ALASKA FACES AIDS BATTLE
HIV-POSITIVE NATIVE DEVOTES LIFE TO HELPING TEENS STAY SAFE
By KRISTAN KELLY ........... For the News-Miner
When David Nelson learned he tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he went home and crawled into the bottle. Home was on the streets of Anchorage.
A couple of days later, he found himself on Fourth Avenue, disheveled and with soiled pants. He had just awoken from a dream that he says has guided him since that day more than five years ago.
In the dream, Nelson heard church bells ringing and wished he could be there. A voice asked him why he wanted to go. So he could talk to God, Nelson said.
The voice told him, 'I'm right behind you.'
In the dream, Nelson told God his problems:
He had just tested positive for HIV and was worried for his three children.
'Are you dead yet?' the voice asked. When Nelson answered, 'No,'
the voice asked, 'Then why are living the way you are?'
After 27 years of drinking and drugging, Nelson sobered up.
Since then, Nelson has been on a mission: To teach teenagers and other Alaska Natives like himself to lead sober lives and practice safe sex so they don't end up like him, dying from acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Sometimes people ask him if he thinks the disease is God's curse. At first, Nelson said, he did consider AIDS a punishment. But now he looks at it as a blessing, "It took this disease to get me out of the gutter."
Nelson, who lives in Seward, gave his first speech on HIV prevention 4 1/2 years ago at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual conference in Anchorage.
He is now a board member of the Alaska HIV Prevention Planning Group and travels around the state in predominently Native areas teaching HIV prevention.
In a recovery program for drugs and alcohol, Nelson earned the nickname, 'Devoted David' for his missionary-like zeal, Nelson said Sunday at a meeting of the HIV Prevention Planning Group at the Fairbanks Princess Hotel.
"I don't want to see anyone else suffer from this because they don't have to. This is 100 percent preventable," he said gesturing at his sunken cheeks and thin frame.
"With AIDS - unless you're either raped or have been a victim of incest — you have to figure out if you want this disease or not," Nelson said. "You have to ask yourself, 'What do I want to do to protect myself and other people?' "
When he speaks to Native teens and adults he uses words like "warrior" and "the enemy." He talks about Native identity and values on marriage, sex, food, shelter and clothing.
"We have lost some of that identity through drugs and alcohol," Nelson said. "We can no longer blame the white man for drugs and alcohol and a poor educational system."
And drugs and alcohol have introduced a new enemy — AIDS.
Nelson blames booze and drugs for impairing his judgement and leading to him catching the HIV virus. There were times in the middle of sex when he was drunk or high that Nelson would have a moment of clarity and realize he didn' know who he was with or why he was there, he said.
Today such memories are reminder of the damage Nelson has done to him self and to other people, he said.
He tells the kids, 'If you want to see what drugs and alcohol are going to do, look at me.' As a member of the HIV Prevention Task Force, he would like to see laws and programs changed in Alaska to help young people stay clear of alcohol and drugs. A curfew coupled with stricter drug and alcohol laws would help, he said, as well as better educational programs about drugs, alcohol and the HIV virus.
Lately Nelson's condition has worsened. This summer he went through a period of substantial weight loss and the disease has started to attack his central nervous system. He has periods of dementia.
Sometimes in pain and despair he asks God, 'Why don't you let me die?' The answer that comes to him is there is something left for Nelson to do with his life.
"It took a lot of trials and tribulations to get here," he said with a hearty laugh. "I would not change a damn thing I've done in my life. God delivered me to see just how big I can be."
At 42, Nelson is finally at peace.
"It doesn't matter to me when I die anymore—it's going to happen," he said. "But right now, I'm still alive."
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