25 Stories: Kim Johnson
April 06, 2012
Kim met Joe in 1974, and the next 28 years of their lives were a whirlwind of activities: anniversary parties, family deaths, building careers, and more.
In 2002, Kim fell ill with one disease after another. Shingles, panic attacks, coughing, a “type” of pneumonia…the list goes on. Eventually, Kim became hospitalized in September 2002, and doctors gave him an HIV test.
“Mr. Johnson, you have AIDS.”
With a CD4 count of 26 at diagnosis*, Kim’s family never expected him to leave the hospital – but Kim never thought about dying. Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t prepared to live his life without Kim, so he took his own life. When Kim left the hospital, it wasn’t because he was well; it was because there was a funeral.
The next two years were full of grief, doctors, starting medication, and learning everything he could about HIV/AIDS. In 2004, Kim’s friends flew him to New Mexico for a New Year’s Day brunch where Kim met John.
The two hit it off instantly, talking every day for a month. It was then that Kim divulged his HIV status. John said it was a non-issue; he knew how it was spread and how to prevent the virus’ spread. “He was in no way judgmental,” Kim remembers.
Eventually, John moved in with Kim in Indianapolis. To this day, they are a “discordant couple,” or a couple where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative. The disease doesn’t define their relationship.
Kim is currently the co-chair of The Damien Center's Client Services Committee and has been actively involved with the Ryan White Planning Council.
“My new mission now is to be more open, and to get out the message about HIV/AIDS.”
* A person’s CD4 count is how many CD4 cells a person has; these cells are the part of the immune system that HIV attacks. A person with a healthy immune system may have anything between 500 and 1600; a CD4 count under 200 qualifies a person for an AIDS diagnosis. A CD4 count of 0 is almost certain death.