World AIDS Day: Ending the HIV epidemic

Today is World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and is considered the first global health day.

We’ve come a long way since the Reagan administration failed to act on the crisis in the 1980s, leading to more than 700,000 people dying in the years since from HIV-related illnesses.

Thanks to science and research, it was announced last month or so that a woman in Argentina might have become only the second known person whose own immune system may have cured her of HIV.

More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are more than 35,000 new infections each year.

HIV, in 2019, was the ninth leading cause of death for people 25-34, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It was the 10th leading cause of death for people 35-44.

For some populations, taking what’s scientifically known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) medicine helps to prevent HIV in people who are most at risk. The medicine is considered to be highly effective for HIV prevention. The medicine can, in many cases, be free from out-of-pocket costs with or without insurance.

But many general practice or primary care doctors still know very little about PrEP, and stigma and fear surrounding HIV can lead to someone having a difficult time getting the medicine. Medical clinics focusing on health initiatives for people who identify as LGBTQ are an option if people have access to such facilities.

People aren’t just living with HIV, they are thriving — with many people living as what’s known as “undetectable=untransmitable” (or “U=U”), meaning they have reached and maintained an undetectable viral load through daily antiretroviral therapy and cannot transmit the virus to others.

Similar to cancer and COVID-19, HIV disproportionately impacts certain age groups and populations — most particularly racial and ethnic minorities, and people who identify as LGBTQ. Fear, suppression, lack of education, stigma, lack of insurance, lack of access to prevention/treatment are among the reasons these communities are at a greater risk.

It is worth noting that, in 2018, 21 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among young people 13-24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Thanksgiving, I saw someone question why an ad for HIV treatment would air during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The information above is why having commercials and marketing efforts during large-scale events, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, can help lead to a better society for everybody.

Such efforts to advertise HIV treatment can help save lives and help to end stigmas.

There is no doubt that someone saw that commercial during the Thanksgiving Day parade and made a call. Or, maybe someone searched for information on HIV testing after seeing the commercial.

This would be similar to seeing an American Cancer Society commercial and then visiting cancer.org for information on testing and treatment.

There was a time in our society when cancer was stigmatized. People saw cancer as a death sentence and did not speak of it — similar to how some people still view HIV.

But through education and research, cancers have become widely understood — and there is generally no stigma attached to someone being diagnosed, at least compared to how society was just a few decades ago.

With any hope, efforts like Thursday’s ad during the Thanksgiving Day parade can help HIV follow a similar path of cancer, allowing society to destigmatize the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of information available to help people better understand HIV.

The CDC provides a section on stopping the stigma.

April 10 is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day. The CDC provides resources for educators and schools.

World AIDS Day is Dec. 1. The theme for 2021 is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice.

Other resources

Remembering Kaci

“You can’t buy love, but you can rescue it.”

Our beloved rescue mix Kaci died Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last year. She was 11.

Ever the guardian of her family, Kaci was the gentlest giant who had a knack for keeping stuffed toys intact — though, later in life she would destroy the squeaker within minutes even as the toy remained fine — and loved cuddling on top of blankets.

Kaci rescued us with love in February 2010 from a Yukon, Pennsylvania, animal rescue organization. As a very young puppy, Kaci, originally named Ann, and a sibling were neglected by a previous owner.

She left those bad memories in the past when she became part of this family zoo.

While having no puppies of her own, Kaci had an incredible motherly instinct — always honing in on the emotions of the humans around her. And when any fellow furry family member had to go to the veterinarian, Kaci expressed concern, typically howling and scurrying around to find that particular animal when they returned.

She understood love, happiness and grief better than most humans do, which allowed her to also be a better caregiver than most people.

While her bark might have seemed off-putting to some, this was her way of expressing concern for those she loved.

And when she wasn’t keeping watch for every pizza delivery or FedEx driver, Kaci was an excellent teller of time — always knowing exactly when it was breakfast, dinner and snack time. Though, she couldn’t quite figure out the changing seasons and clock adjustments.

Never one to turn down food, Kaci enjoyed everything from blueberries to Wegmans butter cream icing. She ate better than many humans as her parents meal-prepped protein and vegetables each week to add to kibble.

While she tolerated spring and fall weather and downright hated even a slight bit of humidity, her love of snow was unmatched. She enjoyed intensely running in snow. Other than snow, Kaci enjoyed visits to Presque Isle, staying under the tent, away from the sun.

Though initially listed as a “pointer” mix, though no pointer ever seemed evident in her, Kaci grew to love her pointer family — first with Sidney and then with Anne and Macy.

In her waning months, as the aggressive form of cancer progressed, her spirits never diminished. While experiencing bad days among the good — sometimes, bad moments of a good day — her love for those around her never stopped. And Kaci still knew when it was feeding and snack time.

In lieu of squeaky toys and tasty treats, hug your furry little animals and remind them how much they mean to you.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night returns in 2021

What’s become the traditional kickoff of the holiday season in Pittsburgh is set to return.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night is back in 2021 — just in time for the 60th anniversary of the city’s first Light Up Night.

After pausing the event in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership promises a “refresh” on the holiday celebration.

Though details were slim in the Sept. 16 announcement, organizers did announce one big change: Light Up Night is moving to Saturday — Nov. 20. Traditionally, the event has been held on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

The Holiday Market at Market Square will celebrate its 10th year in the city and will kick off Nov. 19.

Also new to Light Up Night this year is a new title sponsor: Highmark.

If you know anything about Downtown Pittsburgh and the holidays, you know that the iconic Horne’s tree that dazzles all season long at the corner of Penn and Stanwix streets is now home to Highmark.

“Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night is a tradition for our community. Our sponsorship of the event complements the lighting of the region’s most iconic and historic Christmas tree affixed to our building at the corner of Penn and Stanwix Streets,” Highmark Health Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Dan Onorato said in a statement released by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “We‘re excited that the move to Saturday will now make this signature event even more family-focused and welcoming to all.”

Did you know? Pittsburgh’s first Light Up Night was not tied to the holiday season. The city’s first “light up” event was held April 9, 1959, in honor of the Pirates.

It eventually moved to the holiday season. But Light Up Night took a nine-year hiatus beginning in 1973 in an effort to conserve energy.

Light Up Night returned in 1982 to help lift morale as the steel industry collapsed. Just a few years later, though, Gimbels — one of the last remaining Downtown department stores — would close.

Before COVID-19, Light Up Night, in recent years, recorded crowds of at least half a million people. In the ’90s, as the Downtown retail district began to implode, the event would see 25,000 to 50,000 people.

But something happened since then: The Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership has grown the event — along with the help of many other groups — which has attracted plenty more people to the city.

Gone are the days when Kaufmann’s would celebrate its grand window displays. (I wonder if any consideration has been given to pay homage to this tradition?)

Even once Kaufmann’s became Macy’s, the building would have festive events on nearly every floor.

And who can forget the Arcade Bakery thumbprint cookies with the iconic Kaufmann’s mile-high icing?

Gone are the days when people used Light Up Night and the holiday season to shop Downtown. Now, people shop online or at Target (guilty as charged).

Light Up Night has changed with the times to let Pittsburghers continue to usher in the holidays.

Hourglass / Image by Eduin Escobar from Pixabay

‘Something wicked this way comes’: Popular possession storyline returns to ‘Days of our Lives’

What’s old is new again in Salem.

Picture it: Salem, 1994: The town’s popular therapist, outstanding mother and all-around do-gooder, Marlena Evans, becomes possessed by the devil.

“Three decades later, he’s coming back to finish what he started…”

The popular daytime drama (and my favorite show) will revisit the storyline.

“Fans can look forward to twists and turns you’d never suspect as well as familiar faces returning to save the day (or not)…. this time around, the devil knows no bounds and no one in Salem is safe,” NBC said of the upcoming storyline, Deadline.com reports.

In the original possession storyline, Salem villain Stefano DiMera, having been obsessed with Marlena Evans, hypnotized her in an attempt to get her to fall in love with him. But the hypnosis led to Marlena becoming possessed by the devil.

Then, on Dec. 24, 1994, Marlena Evans levitated in what is considered one of the most iconic moments in television history.

Ultimately, the story concluded many months later when John Black — then a priest but later her husband — performed an emergency exorcism.

See more from that original storyline below:

And, no, this is not a one-episode stunt, Carlivati said.

By the way, Pittsburgh “Days of our Lives” fans, don’t forget: ‘DAYS’ moved to 1 p.m. weekdays on WPXI.

Flight 93 National Memorial: ‘A common field one day. A field of honor forever’

One week shy of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial for the first time.

Located along Route 30 (the Lincoln Highway), this “common field” became a “field of honor” on Sept. 11.

United Airlines Flight 93 left the Newark International Airport in New Jersey at 8:42 a.m. en route to the San Francisco International Airport. The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. It pushed back away from the gate at 8:01 a.m., but, due to the amount of flight traffic, had been delayed in departure.

Forty-six minutes after takeoff — just over the Ohio line from Pennsylvania — hijackers stormed the cockpit, eventually taking control.

Passengers and crew had learned, through phone calls, what had already transpired in New York City and Washington, D.C.

After flying over the Pittsburgh region, passengers and crew attempt to take over the flight at 9:57 a.m.

Just moments later — at 10:03 a.m. — Flight 93 crashed into a Stoneycreek Township, Somerset County, field.

Though the exact destination is unknown, experts and published reports suggest the hijackers were ultimately aiming for the Capitol. The crash site is just 18 minutes in air from Washington, D.C.

The actions of the Flight 93 passengers and crew are at the heart of everything within the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Upon entering the site, visitors come upon the Tower of Voices, soaring 93 feet into the air. This unique monument holds 40 wind chimes, representing each of the passengers and crew onboard Flight 93.

“The Tower of Voices provides a living memorial in sound to remember the forty through their ongoing voices,” the National Park Service says of the tower on its website.

After viewing the tower, visitors can get back into their vehicle and take a roughly 3.5-mile drive to the visitor’s center.

Inside, visitors can gain a better understanding of the day’s events, timeline of the flight and other related pieces of history through a permanent exhibition featuring audio and visual artifacts.

I offer a warning that the exhibit can trigger memories of that morning and might be difficult for some visitors.

The National Park Service recommends budgeting at least 45 minutes to view the exhibit. It’s important to note that no photography is permitted inside the exhibit, according to signs posted in early September 2021.

And, as of September 2021, for health and safety measures, face masks are required inside the visitor’s center.

In addition, a bookstore offers books and other items relating to the site.

Outside of the visitor’s center, visitors can see an overview of the crash site, Memorial Plaza, Wall of Names and the boulder denoting the impact site.

After stopping there, visitors have a choice between walking a path or driving to Memorial Plaza.

Two trails — the 1.2-mile Allée Trail and the 0.7-mile Western Overlook Trail — allow visitors to walk to Memorial Plaza. The Western Overlook Trail follows the path the plane took.

At Memorial Plaza, visitors can walk to Wall of Names, which lists the names of passengers and crew members.

On the walk to the plaza with the Wall of Names, visitors will see the large boulder.

While the impact and legacy of Flight 93 is the focal point of this national site, other work continues to reforest what once was a coal mine.

After visiting the national memorial, I recommend a short drive to an unsuspecting Sept. 11, 2001, memorial.

Just about 9 miles from the entrance to the national memorial site is the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel & United Airlines Crew Monument.

This little white church sits just outside of the small, rural town of Shanksville, which became the epicenter of emergency response crews, journalists and others in the days and weeks following Sept. 11.

The church is located at a quiet intersection, near a cemetery and surrounded by corn fields. If you’re driving too fast and not paying attention to your GPS device, you’ll miss it. Look for the large bell tower.

There is little information online about this memorial site but a friend who had been working on 20th anniversary special coverage for a Western Pennsylvania newspaper suggested I visit.

On my visit, a family of three was making their way through the tiny chapel-turned-museum.

Chapel volunteer Connie Hay so graciously took her time to explain items inside the chapel, providing details about how the items arrived and a brief story behind them. She showed me a small room off of the main space that provides a photo and short biography of each passenger and crew member, and allows people to light a candle in their memory.

One of the items on display includes what became the first memorial of Flight 93.

Outside of the chapel is a monument dedicated to the Flight 93 crew members. The plaza is flanked by flags from each state. Off to the side is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center — etched in the shape of “UA 93.”

Connie told me the site sees an increase in visitors as Sept. 11 nears each year, including visits from United crew members. On the Saturday before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Connie told me they anticipated a bigger increase.

The site is a short drive that is certainly worth the trip. If you’ve got time, take a gander around the tiny town of Shanksville and head to the elementary school to see an outdoor statue given to the school after the attacks.