ELYRIA - Feebly at first, and then with growing courage, those gathered Saturday night at Temple B`Nai Abraham spoke the names of friends and family diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
"Bless those in need of healing with r`fuah sh`leima, the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit," they prayed.
Setting aside differences of faith, the believers from the synagogue and several churches paused on World AIDS Day to remember 31 local men and women who died from the virus.
The ceremony had special meaning for Carol Green, 66, of Elyria. Two years ago, her son, Lee Green, died of cirrhosis of the liver.
Lee Green had started drinking heavily when he learned he was HIV-positive, Green said.
James Marotta, 49, of Lorain, also lost a loved one to AIDS. His partner, Frank Aguirre, 31, died three years ago after the virus disabled his immune system and pneumonia and meningitis wracked his body.
"He was my life," Marotta said. "I saw him go from a very healthy young man down to
86 pounds and full of pain."
Ricky Lanza, 52, of Elyria, took comfort in the service. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1996.
Two years ago, Lanza slipped into a coma and nearly died. Doctors told his partner, Mitch Leaver, 49, that Lanza wouldn`t live. The doctors were wrong.
When Lanza recovered, he was confined to a wheelchair.
However, Lanza has defied the doctor`s prognosis and says he is almost well enough to return to his career as a ballroom dance instructor.
Today, the virus is undetectable in his system, and Lanza`s white blood cell count is at 225, the highest in a decade.
That`s still dangerously low, though - an uninfected person has between 4,000 and 10,000 white blood cells per cubic milliliter of blood.
Lanza takes three medications every day to fight HIV and another 25 to counter other health problems that are side effects of the virus.
But he said it`s harder to fight prejudice than to fight HIV. There is a stigma against people who are HIV-positive, he said.
People have slammed doors in his face, walked the other way to avoid him and refused to touch or talk with him.
"People who don`t have it don`t understand," Lanza said. "You can`t catch AIDS from hugging."
Donna McKinney, 65, of Elyria, said she also was shunned by some of her friends when HIV changed her life 15 years ago.
Her son took a blood test at a Crawford County Fair booth and learned that both he and his partner were HIV-positive.
At first, McKinney had trouble accepting it.
"I couldn`t believe it. I walked out of the room. I couldn`t talk to him that day," she said. "I had to learn to love him, accept him and not point any fingers."
McKinney, Lanza, Marotta and Green want to make a difference.
They are all part of the Lorain County AIDS Task Force, a non-profit group that runs a food bank, helps those with HIV pay for gas, electric and heat, and takes patients to medical appointments.
Although HIV/AIDS cases in the United States have declined in the last few years, there have been about 150 reported new cases in the county in 2007 alone.
There are only three doctors in the county who are trained to treat HIV patients, Lanza said. The Task Force reaches out to patients from Toledo to Shelby.
To donate to the Task Force, call (440) 452-5228 or visit www.lcaidstaskforce.org. Lanza said 100 percent of all donations go to those in need.
Contact Jason Hawk at 653-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.