My name is Carl Branch.
I’m a second generation Chicagoan, born and raised. My husband of seven years, Patrick Fahey, and I are the proud fathers of a fifteen-year old son, Donovon. Did I mention that he’s 15? Heaven help us! Also, I am clinical research consultant for a number of pharmaceutical/medical device/biotech companies in the U.S. and Canada.
Here is my story:
In 1986, during my sophomore year in college, I noticed that I was losing weight, rapidly. I was a healthy 140 pounds, but my scale informed me that I was, indeed 119 pounds. I was also plagued with swollen glands and night sweats. On a hot day that summer, I fainted in my parents’ living room. My mother rushed me to the nearest emergency room. The ER doctors were stumped to reach a diagnosis, and finally sent me home with medication to relieve my nausea and stomach pains. A year later, in 1987, sleep apnea led me to seek surgical options for an adenoidectomy. Here is the fun part: my preoperative lab work was mysteriously “lost” by lab technicians...three times. The day before my operation, I received a phone call from my surgeon, saying, “We’re going to proceed with the operation, tomorrow, although I just found out that you are HIV-positive!” I blacked out upon hearing this. When I woke up, I began screaming and crying in my parents’ arms. Not only did I officially have to come out as a gay man, I also had to disclose that I was HIV-positive. I thought that my life was over. I harbored a tremendous amount of guilt and shame knowing that I brought HIV into my home. Thankfully, my amazing parents and wonderful siblings showered me with unconditional love and support.
Being HIV-positive in 1987 was very scary. The only approved treatment for HIV was AZT. I didn’t tolerate the medication very well, and my T-cell count of three proved that fact. I needed answers, and support...and secretly, I was praying for a miracle. Thankfully, in 1989, someone recommended that I visit TPA (Test Positive Aware) Network, now TPAN. When I walked in the doors, I met other men and women who were in the same proverbial boat. I joined a support group for HIV-positive black gay men, Brothers United in Support (BUS). My BUS brothers were incredibly courageous men who rallied around each other, sharing victories, visiting our infirm members, and eulogizing our angels who passed away, all too soon. I was also fortunate enough to join a TPAN-sponsored workout class with fitness trainer Troy Ford. Troy helped a number of TPAN clients get back into shape and he also stressed the importance of a healthy diet, maintaining good sleep habits, and leading a stress-free life. My life was on the upswing.
For the next 20-plus years, I’ve always thought about how I could give back to TPAN what it gave to me. That chance presented itself in 2013 when I joined the TPAN board of directors. I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Currently, I’m working with the fundraising and clinical services development committees. I’m fortunate to work with some phenomenally selfless people who share a common goal and
vision for TPAN. We all agree that TPAN saves lives. I am a living witness.
I was able to participate in the 2015 Ride for AIDS Chicago and it was truly life-changing. After surviving cancer and two hip replacements, I found myself on a bike, riding 200 miles! I wiped out at mile 75, but I got back on my bike and rode to the 100-mile mark. I completed the Ride to prove to myself that I could accomplish anything and to show my 15-year-old son that when you fall down, you get back up. I also completed the Ride for my brothers and sisters who are no longer physically present on this earth and for the clients at TPAN, who are worthy of receiving comprehensive medical and mental health care.
I’m inspired daily,
by my family, church, husband, son, and by my dog, Max. I’ve been given a new lease on life and I don’t take it for granted. Additionally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my story with others who may be going through similar experiences living with HIV. TPAN is an amazing organization and my intent is that it remains a viable beacon of hope for the community, the city, and the nation.