Robb’s Life Chapter 32 -Ringing in 1996 by with a Little Sweat and a Lot of Spackle

Robb-Jan-96-71996 began with Robb with a little sweat and a little spackle, still working hard to get the house ready to open so homeless HIV and AIDS clients could have a place to stay. Within 5 months, the house would be named “Robb’s House” and would be owned and operated by the DeLaCerda House, a nonprofit organization.

We had been doing Robb’s Life stories since April, almost nine months. He had not expected to live to see 1996, but here he was, making the most of his time.

Robb-Jan-96-3I was disappointed when we shot this story right after the first of the year that he had celebrated his 34th birthday on New Year’s Eve and had not told me that his birthday was coming up. I’m not sure what bothered me the most — that I didn’t know his birthday (how could I have not asked this basic question?) or that he didn’t tell me about it. My holidays had been very busy, with a new relationship that would become a marriage in September of 1996, and with a trip to Lexington to visit friends and family. But for 20 years, I have regretted not being at Robb’s 34th birthday party with my camcorder.

I would not have another chance.

In this episode, Robb also shows the permanent IV that was put into his chest for more effective medicine delivery. At this point, every day was a gift.

You can still donate to the DeLaCerda House and help keep Robb’s legacy alive. Go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the screen.

 

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.

Headstone-Robb-Lorney-Hattie

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

Robb-Delacerda-Dec-5

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 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’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.

Robb’s Life Chapter 24 – A Drug Treatment More Toxic Than Chemo

Robb clowns around as the visiting nurse checks the insertion site on his arm.

Robb clowns around as the visiting nurse checks the insertion site on his arm.

In late September, 1995, Robb was in the middle of a 21-day drug treatment for cytomegalovirus, a common virus associated with AIDS. The drug was more toxic than chemotherapy.

A visiting nurse stopped by several times a week to check how he was doing, clean the arm where the tube was inserted, and make sure he wasn’t having trouble with the machine administering the drug.

Robb had been sick for a couple of weeks and he was getting a lot of mail at WHBF-TV, and I would take the cards and letters to him.

This episode shows the visiting nurse, and Robb discusses the mail he is getting, including one horrible letter from someone in Clinton, Iowa.

This blog is recreating Robb’s Life as it originally aired during the last year of Robb Dussliere’s life. Please help keep Robb’s legacy alive and donate a few dollars to the DeLaCerda House — Robb’s favorite charity that provides housing for homeless HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities. Go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click the Donate button on the right side of the screen.

Robb’s Life Chapter 22 – A Warning for Women about HIV

Robb, Kelli Hughes and Beth Wehrman arrive to speak to a church group in Davenport - September, 1995.

Robb, Kelli Hughes and Beth Wehrman arrive to speak to a church group in Davenport – September, 1995.

Kelli Hughes was a college student when she had sex during a one-night stand with a young man who infected her with HIV.

One mistake changed her life.

She became Robb Dussliere’s friend. Twenty years ago this week, Robb and Kelli spoke to a group of teens at a Davenport church about how they could avoid HIV. The appearance was organized by Beth Wehrman, who was Executive Director of the AIDS Project Quad Cities at the time.

When we shot this story in September, 1995, Kelli thought it would be a miracle to reach her 30th birthday, and she did not think a 50th birthday was even possible.

You want some good news? Kelli is still with us and she is only 4 or 5 years from hitting that 50-year mark. That’s how good the medication has become for those who contract HIV.

Take a look at the story and see how bleak her future looked 20 years ago. The new medications were just preparing to hit the market. We did not realize it at the time, but the new drugs came along in time to save Kelli, but not in time to save Robb.

Kelli and her husband and children (which they had using artificial insemination) are living in St. Charles, Missouri. I am attempting to contact her to catch up, but here is a story about Kelli that appeared in a Dewitt, Iowa newspaper five years ago.

There are still many people who are shunned and lose their jobs when they acquire HIV. Please help the DeLaCerda House by donating a few dollars to help support these people. It was Robb’s great passion in the last few months of his life. Follow this link and click on the Donate button on the right side of the page.

Robb’s Life Chapter 21 — Checking a Headstone Off the To-Do List

On September 13, 1995, this episode of Robb’s Life aired on WHBF-TV. Robb had been very sick the week before, and he and his parents, Lorney and Hattie Dussliere, realized they needed to select a headstone for their grave and check that item off the to-do list.

Robb barely smiled during this video shoot at Moline Monument, although you can hear him laugh during his first comment about the three of them agreeing “quickly for a change.” It was obvious he was not feeling well.

Help keep Robb’s legacy alive! Donate to the DeLaCerda House and help provide shelter and support for homeless HIV and AIDS clients. Go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

Robb’s Life Chapter 20 – A Scoping Procedure as Throat Pain Continues

Robb prepares for a scoping procedure in September, 1995.

Robb prepares for a scoping procedure in September, 1995.

In early September, 1995, Robb Dussliere was in continuous pain from a throat infection. He was also running a fever.

Dr. Louis Katz arranged for Robb to go to Genesis for a scoping procedure.

It was obvious that Robb’s health had declined in the five months since we began our series. His eyes have the appearance of someone who is ill, and it appears he has lost weight. But he continues to push on, meeting everything with a matter-of-fact attitude.

I was surprised and grateful for the unusual access I was given with my camcorder in the hospital.

Donate to the DeLaCerda House and help keep Robb’s legacy alive. Please donate a few dollars to help support 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 page. On behalf of Robb, thank you.

Robb’s Life Chapter 19 – Fun with the Jet Ski on the Mississippi River with Brother John

Robb and his brother, John Dussliere.

Robb and his brother, John Dussliere.

Robb’s younger brother, John Dussliere, came to visit in late August, 1995. Robb’s health was starting to yo-yo every day, feeling fine earlier in the day and sometimes feeling bad later.

They loved to jet-ski, so they took one out to the Mississippi River and enjoyed the day.

Robb later believed he picked something up in the river that day that caused him to begin spiraling downward. With virtually no immune system remaining, it was a possibility.

This story aired on WHBF-TV on the 10:00 news, August 28, 1995.

Robb was dedicated to providing shelter and support to homeless people living with HIV and AIDS in the Quad Cities area. Please help keep Robb’s legacy alive by donating a few dollars to the DeLaCerda House. Follow this link — www.delacerdahouseinc.org — and click on the Donate button on the right side of the page. Thank you.