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Lompoc man with HIV uses diagnosis to encourage education, testing

Posted at 6:21 PM, Nov 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-16 03:41:37-05

Ahead of World AIDS Day on Saturday, a Lompoc man who contracted HIV in 2016 is using his diagnosis to encourage people to get tested and educate themselves about the disease.

More than 1 million people in the U.S. have HIV/AIDS with nearly 200 patients living in San Luis Obispo and over 500 patients in Santa Barbara County, according to the most recent data available.

Derek Kazianka, 29, is one of the Santa Barbara County residents living with HIV, a disease that caused him to lose 60 pounds in just a couple of weeks and develop flu-like symptoms that hindered his ability to do what he loves: dance.

“That’s the huge part, I’ve always kept with myself doing dance,” Kazianka said. “It’s a huge piece of my Spanish and Latin background.”

Kazianka was adopted into a white family at a young age, but he found his Latino-African American heritage through dance, which he’s been doing for decades.

Over a short amount of time in 2016, Kazianka began losing his mobility and feeling unexplained aches in his body, along with a rash spanning the length of his back.

So he went to the doctor.

“(The doctor) came in and it was kind of blunt, it wasn’t sugar coated, no nice greeting about it,” Kazianka said. “It was, ‘Hey, you have HIV.'”

The diagnosis changed his life forever. The energetic dancer transformed into a sick patient who became homeless after turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Through it all, Kazianka’s friend of 12 years, Melissa Corkren, stood by his side.

“Seeing him and not being able to recognize him, that was hard,” Corkren said. “Finding out his diagnosis was hard on me. I cried a lot.”

With help from friends and family, Kazianka says he put his pain back into dance and later activism, encouraging people to get tested and speaking out against false information about his illness.

But last month, Kazianka received a new wave of bad news.

“I was told I have two years, with that being the maximum life expectancy, before I get AIDS,” Kazianka said. “I have a year and a half, if i’m still here in that year and a half…”

Amid his battle with addiction, his struggle with homelessness and concerns about health insurance, Kazianka stopped taking his HIV prescription. He said his lack of medication caused his condition to advance.

Now, faced with a potentially deadly progression in his illness, Kazianka said he’s more determined than ever to make a difference.

He encouraged people to use the upcoming World AIDS Day to learn about the disease. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in San Luis Obispo is hosting a special service Saturday in partnership with Access Support Network and everyone is encouraged to attend.

San Luis Obispo County Public Health offers walk-in HIV/AIDS testing on Mondays and Wednesdays. More information about HIV/AIDS can be found within the Access Support Network in SLO.

With the current medications on the market, most HIV patients can sustain a normal, healthy life with continued treatment.

This story was updated to include information about Kazianka’s decision to stop taking HIV treatment.