Robb’s Life Chapter 31 – A Special Delivery for Christmas

Headstone-4

“This (photo) is what I’m sending for Christmas presents,” Robb jokes.

Just in time for Christmas in 1995, a major item was checked off Robb’s To-Do-List. The headstone that he and his parents designed was delivered by Moline Monument to St. Mary’s Cemetery in East Moline.

You may remember that in May, Robb and his parents — Lorney and Hattie — chose their grave site during a tour of the cemetery. Now, the project was complete!

It isn’t easy for three people to decide on the design of a headstone, which will identify them for perhaps hundreds of years, or until the stone is worn down by time. This story shows the final steps in the design process, then Robb, Lorney and Hattie are at the cemetery as the headstone is delivered and installed.

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Robb, Lorney, and Hattie watch as the headstone is installed.

None of us knew, of course, that Robb only had four months to live. He may have suspected this would be his last Christmas, but he had suspected it the previous year, too. And he had recently signed up for a new drug trial, so anything could happen.

I think back to this time, and I don’t believe I gave him a Christmas gift that year. Perhaps I was still trying to keep a bit of professional distance, being a reporter, but I regret it now. If I could do it again, I would have made a big deal of it. Once someone is gone, however, there are no do-overs. Insert deep sigh here.

For 20 years, I have cracked up over Robb’s joke at the end of this story, and how Lorney reacts to it. Even in the middle of a profound, potentially depressing event, Robb could lighten the mood.

Robb’s Life Chapter 30 – A Holiday Rush for the DeLaCerda House

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Jim Hughes (left) and Robb (right) listen as a contractor describes some work that is needed in the shelter.

The race was on in early December, 1995, as Robb and a group of volunteers worked to get a homeless shelter ready for HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities. Robb wanted very badly to have the shelter open by December 15th, but it was obvious that was not going to happen.

Kelli Hughes and her husband, Jim joined the volunteers, tearing off drywall and helping with a variety of tasks. Kelli was HIV positive, and she is still alive and well in 2015, which no one expected when we shot this story.

Robb-Delacerda-Dec-6Robb was working so hard, but when watching this story, it is obvious that he is not feeling well. He isn’t smiling as much, and you can see the distress in his eyes from his illness.

Still, it is hard to believe that he only had four months to live as Christmas was approaching 20 years ago. The house he was so passionate about would be dedicated in his memory and named “Robb’s House.”

As you watch this, please keep in mind that you can honor Robb, help support Robb’s House, and keep his legacy alive by donating to the DeLaCerda House, a wonderful organization providing housing and support for people living with HIV and AIDS. Just visit their website at www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

 

Robb’s Life Chapter 29 – Guinea Pig for a New AIDS Drug

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Robb and Buddy on December 6, 1995.

In early December, 1995, Robb Dussliere signed up to test a new drug called Ritonavir. Early testing showed that it boosted the T-cells of people who took the drug, and it reduced the amount of HIV in their blood.

Ritonavir was part of a new group of drugs called “protease inhibitors.”

I went to Robb’s house and found him dressed in work clothes from working on the home that he was preparing to open for the DeLaCerda House, to provide shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities.

I was very glad to see Buddy, Robb’s dog, back at home. Robb talks about it in this feature that was broadcast in December, 1995.

I was also very happy to see that Robb was using a Smurf glass. I had some of those and loved to use them because they cracked me up, so I was tickled that Robb used one, too. One reason we bonded, obviously, was our silly mutual sense of humor.

You can donate to the DeLaCerda House and help homeless HIV and AIDS clients, who still need our support 20 years later. Just go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

HIV Diagnosis is No Longer a Death Sentence? Part 2 of the WHBF Series – Robb’s Life 20 Years Later

Dr. Louis Katz

Dr. Louis M. Katz was Robb’s doctor during his final year with AIDS.

Being diagnosed as HIV positive is no longer the death sentence it was 20 years ago, IF you have proper treatment and access to the latest drugs.

It is a shocking thing to hear from the doctor who treated Robb for AIDS, but in the second part of Emily Scarlett’s series updating Robb’s Life 20 years later, Dr. Louis Katz discusses changes in the treatment of HIV since Robb was diagnosed in the Eighties and developed full-blown AIDS in 1994.

“It’s a treatable infection,” Robb’s doctor, Dr. Louis M. Katz, says in this report.

It is surprising for me to hear this, considering that at the time we did Robb’s Life there was no effective treatment that could have extended his life.

My fear is that people will now think there is nothing to fear, but who wants to contract an illness that depends upon access to expensive drugs for the rest of their life? In the past few years, I have become dependent on heart medication and it is not something I recommend. Imagine being 25 and realizing you will be on medication for the rest of your life to prevent your death? It is still a life-altering diagnosis. In many parts of the world, access to drugs is still difficult or impossible. For these reasons, the prevention message is still important.

These are interesting issues to consider as you watch Part 2 of Emily’s series Robb’s Life 20 Years Later — click this link to watch.

There are still homeless HIV and AIDS clients due to the fear and ignorance surrounding this disease. The DeLaCerda House provides shelter and support. Please keep Robb’s legacy alive and donate by going to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and clicking the “Donate” button on the right side of the screen.

 

Part 1 of the WHBF Series – Robb’s Life 20 Years Later

WHBF Robbs Life logo 2Part One of Emily Scarlett’s series updating Robb’s Life 20 years later was broadcast last night on WHBF Local 4 News in Rock Island, Illinois, the station where the series originally ran 20 years ago.

The purposes of bringing the original series back on this blog in “real time” this year is to honor Robb’s legacy, continue his mission to educate people about how to avoid HIV, and to raise funds for the cause that was his focus during the last months of his life — the DeLaCerda House, which provides housing and support for homeless HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities.

Click this link to see part 1 of Emily Scarlett’s series. Part 2 airs tonight at 10 on WHBF, featuring Robb’s doctor, Dr. Louis Katz, who talks about Robb’s impact and the AIDS situation 20 years later.

You can donate to the DeLaCerda House by clicking this link and then clicking the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

 

Robb’s Life Chapter 28 – Hanging Drywall and Robb’s Final Thanksgiving

Robb at Thanksgiving, 1995.

Robb at Thanksgiving, 1995.

Twenty years ago this week, Robb was racing to renovate the abandoned house in Rock Island into a shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients. Along with his father, Lorney, and a friend, Ray Williams, Robb was hanging drywall and doing other work to make the old house inhabitable.

This would be Robb’s final Thanksgiving, and he was amazed that he was still alive and feeling well enough to hang drywall.

I remember shooting this piece very clearly, and when I was editing, I noticed there was a look in Robb’s eyes that had not been there a few months earlier. It was the look of someone who is sick, whose body is struggling. But when he smiled, his eyes sparkled as they always did. It was clear that he was not smiling as often these days.

Renovating the interior of what would be known as "Robb's House."

Renovating the interior of what would be known as “Robb’s House.” Ray Williams is on the left. 

But Robb was focused intensely on providing shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients — people who were less fortunate than he — so he was pouring his limited energy into the DeLaCerda House. Twenty years later, his work is still doing a lot of good in our community.

After all these years, you can still help, and that is the reason that we are honoring Robb’s memory during this 20th anniversary year of Robb’s Life. Please help keep Robb’s legacy alive by donating, even just a few dollars, to the DeLaCerda House. Just go to their website at www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

And don’t miss WHBF-TV’s special news series this week updating Robb’s Life 20 years later. Watch WHBF Local 4 News at 10:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, November 23, 24 and 25.

Robb Lives Again on WHBF-TV Local 4 News in Special Series Nov. 23-25

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WHBF-TV morning anchor and reporter Emily Scarlett interviewed Lorney and Hattie Dussliere for her series updating Robb’s Life.

Don’t miss the WHBF Local 4 News next week at 10 p.m.

The story of Robb Dussliere will receive an update from WHBF-TV and Local 4 News reporter Emily Scarlett during the week of Thanksgiving. The series will be broadcast on the 10:00 p.m. news on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during Thanksgiving week.

Twenty years after the original news series was broadcast, during the final year of Robb’s life with AIDS, Emily has interviewed Robb’s parents, Lorney and Hattie Dussliere, Robb’s sisters Martha and Peg, Robb’s doctor, Dr. Louis Katz, and even me, the reporter. Emily has asked me to be on the morning news for a live interview on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. It will air between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.

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Robb with sisters Martha (left) and Peg (right) in 1995.

Emily’s stories will bring viewers up-to-date on the AIDS situation in the Quad Cities, and how Robb’s contribution to education and the establishment of the DeLaCerda House is still being felt two decades after he passed away in April, 1996.

The original “Robb’s Life” series won several awards and honors, and is being rerun in “real time” on this blog during this 20th anniversary year. Each story about Robb that aired between April, 1995 and April, 1996 is being shown here on this blog starting the week it was originally broadcast, only 20 years later.

 

Robb’s Life Chapter 27 — Giving Up Buddy

Robb has a quick dance with Buddy before letting him go with his sister, Martha.

Robb has a quick dance with Buddy before letting him go with Robb’s sister, Martha.

As Robb continued to survive with AIDS, and a virtually nonexistent immune system, there was a growing concern that his dog, Buddy, might pass along bacteria that could actually prove fatal.

He made the difficult decision to give Buddy to his sister, Martha. I always loved playing with Buddy when I visited. He considered my hand one of his favorite chew toys while I was there shooting an interview or something else happening in Robb’s life. So I went to Robb’s house for Buddy’s sendoff and we had a little fun even though it was a bit sad.

This is the type of experience with Robb that lifted me over the mental hurdle of homophobia. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in the South during the Fifties and Sixties, in a conservative Christian home, and I was raised with all the prejudices you might expect. We were not hateful in any way, but the culture was still insidious, with many friends and some family members disliking people who are different — non-Christians, minorities, gay people. Prejudice does not have to be wrapped in hatred to be effective.

By the time I became an adult, I had overcome a lot of the prejudices I learned growing up. But I still did not like homosexuals. That was my final hurdle.

Robb Buddy 4Robb lifted me over that hurdle by just being himself. How could I visit his home and play with his dog and dislike him? How could I videotape him playing with Buddy and hate him for who he loved? This was not a sudden realization. It came over a period of months, during this year-long relationship, as I interviewed Robb, witnessed some of his life, joked with him, and laughed along with him as he made silly jokes during our stories.

Robb changed me because he was real. He was serious, he was funny, and he was brave. How could I deny him the same rights that I enjoyed?

The simple answer was that I could not. And this particular story was just one of the events that chipped away at me as I videotaped it and then sat in the editing room, watching the video over and over, deciding which shot to include and in what order, laughing over and over at Robb, and even feeling a little sad as he tells Buddy, “Don’t look sad,” at the end.

It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know. By now, I was really getting to know the first gay man I had ever really known. It was life-changing.

You can help keep Robb’s legacy alive by donating a few dollars to the DeLaCerda House, Robb’s favorite charity, providing shelter to homeless HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities. Go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the screen.

Robb’s Life Chapter 26 – Speaking to Students at Davenport West High

Robb sits outside of Davenport West High School in late October, 1995.

Robb sits outside of Davenport West High School in late October, 1995.

In late October, 1995, the leaves were changing color and falling, and Robb Dussliere was seeing his last autumn. He and Beth Wehrman were invited to a class at Davenport West High School to speak to students about how to avoid HIV and AIDS.

It was at this point that Robb’s bravery hit home with me. After being sick a few weeks before, he willingly appeared before a room full of teenagers even though any of them could have sneezed and given him the bug that could kill him. But Robb wanted to spend his remaining time educating — not just with our TV news series, but also face-to-face, and especially with young people.

Afterwards, we went outside and sat on a bench for the interview part of the story. It was a sunny, autumn day.


You can help keep Robb’s legacy alive and help provide shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients. Please donate to the DeLaCerda House by going to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and clicking on the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.