Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wanted to nurture AIDS babies on her rural Virginia farm.
So three years ago, the world-famous psychiatrist asked for a zoning allowance for her new project. Her farm, like Noah's ark, boasts animals that fill the barnyard two-by-two. She thought such a place would be a healing environment for the neglected babies. "AIDS babies are not treated well in our society," said the doctor, whose most famous book, "On Death and Dying" is about grieving. Since 1981, Kubler-Ross has worked with thousands of AIDS patients.But the project hit a snag. The community feared AIDS. "Hell broke loose. I was attacked. I was almost lynched. I had to get back home with a police escort."
Of 3,000 residents, 2,000 signed a petition against Kubler-Ross' zoning request. Bullets pocked her bedroom window. Shards of glass littered her driveway. Her neighbors, including the patients the doctor treated with emergency house calls, called her "the lady who wants to impart AIDS into the town."
People would stand up in town meetings and claim they were Christians, then threaten to lock the doors of the local school if a child with AIDS was enrolled.
While new treatments and new drugs offer hope, AIDS patients and health-care providers still have to battle hatred, Kubler-Ross said Tuesday at KUED studios. She spoke during a teleconference that was beamed to hundreds listening at college campuses across Utah.
Political battles continue, not just in Kubler-Ross' Virginia, but also in Utah, said David Sharpton, a Salt Lake AIDS patient. Such fights are a waste of energy. "We are sick people. We are not healthy physically." He urged other patients not to give up, but to live with the disease.
Utah, like other states, will see more AIDS patients, Kubler-Ross predicts. "Of all my AIDS patients all over the world, almost all of them want to get back home."
Society must provide more education about sexuality and health, Kubler-Ross said, in order to prevent the spread of diseases. And physical diseases aren't the only concern. Sexual abuse and incest are sweeping society. Some experts estimate that 50 percent to 75 percent of the population have been a victim of such abuse. "The very first lesson of life is we have to become honest again."
The first diagnosed AIDS death in Utah was reported in 1983. Now there have been 376 reported cases of AIDS in Utah, while 228 of those, or 61 percent, have died of the disease. Another 2,500 to 4,000 people are estimated to test positive for the HIV virus, according to Jerry Clark, AIDS education manager at the Utah Department of Health.
Kubler-Ross counseled caregivers to deal with their own pasts in order to have the reservoir of personal strength necessary to care for terminally ill patients. "Most people carry a huge bucket of old grief. You need to shed your old grief."
Those seeking to provide real service to the world should volunteer to work with AIDS patients, especially those in prison. And AIDS babies also need love. Kubler-Ross said she knows of at least two babies who once tested positive of the HIV virus, but now test negative. She credits the miracle of unconditional love and human bonding.
"If you have changed one life, then your whole life has been worthwhile."