RIVIERA BEACH — Dale Smith has clinically died and come back to life four times.
“I am a miracle,” Smith said in a recent interview as he recalled a series of events associated with a 2008 hospital stay when he learned he had full blown AIDS.
For more than 25 years, Smith had been carrying the HIV virus that causes AIDS and he knew all the symptoms associated with it. So when he couldn’t sleep for two consecutive nights, he knew something was wrong and he decided to go for what he expected would be a quick check-up at the hospital before going out of town. He never made it.
By the next morning, Smith flat-lined, and did so again, and again, and yet again before his ordeal ended some 60 days later. During his hospital stay, he went into a coma for 10 days, his kidneys shut down, his lungs collapsed and he had total renal and respiratory failure. Then he needed a blood transfusion, kidney dialysis and surgery. There were three strains of pneumonia in his lungs.
That was three years ago.
“Look at me now,” said Smith, who owns a business, is a motivational speaker and is studying for a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
“I am a modern day miracle,” Smith said as he was prepping for his graduate course at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, where he has lived for the past 18 years.
Although he has been on every conceivable AIDS-related medication over the past 28 years, he said, he credits the power of prayer for his recovery and his pastors, Bishop Harold Ray and Pastor Brenda Ray, of Redemptive Life Fellowship. He moved to West Palm Beach in 1993 to become a member of the church.
“There would be no me without them,” he said. “They spoke life to me when everyone else said I was going to die. And I received it in my spirit. I see myself living in spite of a diagnosis that suggests I should die.”
Smith contracted HIV in 1983 through unprotected heterosexual sex. During those early years of the epidemic, AIDS was associated mainly with gay men; Smith is heterosexual. Over the years, he has come to understand the feelings of hopelessness and despair that often lead to deep depression. Now, through his company, Diversified Motivational Solutions Inc., he consults on HIV/AIDS for jails and detention centers, social service organizations, drug abuse centers and other groups. He offers condoms especially to inner-city residents. Many of them are in a high at-risk population: those who are on drugs or those who might be least likely to heed messages about safe sex.
But, in February, a high-ranking United Nations AIDS official came to South Florida with news that the AIDS situation is improving. Dr. Djibril Diallo, senior advisor to the executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) spoke in Riviera Beach on the epidemic at the request of Mayor Thomas Masters.
Diallo said the message of using protection is finally getting through to at-risk populations and the general public and, as a result, the number of people infected is declining. Globally, behaviors are changing and it is reflected in the data, Diallo said.
According to UNAIDS statistics, in 2009 there were 2.6 million new infections, which is down from 3.1 million in 1999. Also in 2009, there were 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths, lower than the 2.1 million in 2004.
But even though those figures are dropping, the number of people globally who have contracted the disease is still staggering. Since the beginning of the epidemic, 60 million people have been infected with HIV and 30 million people have died of HIV-related causes. Diallo said the media has played a big role in communicating the message about the dangers of unprotected sex but the public must remain vigilant if the numbers are to continue to decline.
Smith said grassroots efforts have also contributed to the declining numbers, due to creative ways of reaching people and that must continue.
For those who are struggling with the disease, Smith wants them to know it does not have to be a death sentence.
“I celebrated 28 years of HIV living with me. I’m having a wonderful time in my life,” he said. “I’m a walking miracle and I love it, I love it, I love it!”
• To find out more about Diversified Motivational Solutions Inc., or for motivational speaking engagements, you may reach Dale Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daphne Taylor may be reached at email@example.com