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Catching up with... LaGena Lookabill Greene

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AIDS victim giving hope to others

LaGena Lookabill Greene gained national attention when she went public with the news that the late NASCAR driver Tim Richmond infected her with HIV in 1986. Eventually the infection developed into AIDS and the former actress was told she'd have six months to live. She's still alive today, relying on a copious cocktail of medications. Staff writer Jennifer Rothacker spoke with Greene, 47, and living in Indian Trail. Her answers have been edited for space.

Q: What's your latest prognosis?

Right now, my viral load is undetectable, which is good.

Q: How many pills do you take?

I'm down to 35. I have fewer pills to take for AIDS, but I take other pills for the complications AIDS treatment has caused, like diabetes (she's on an insulin pump) and the risks associated with heart disease.

Q: Is there still a stigma to AIDS?

Early on, of all places for me to be discriminated against, it was in the hospital. And then I would hear about things later. (For example), my husband and I ate out at a restaurant and this waitress told me later that a family recognized me as the girl with AIDS and asked to be moved.

After I went public, although I was not a risk to others, I was leery about going to the gym or neighborhood swimming pool. Now, I think people are much better educated.

Q: After going public, you gave talks throughout the country. Are you still doing that?

Yes, occasionally. I bring a message of hope to the broken-hearted, forgiveness for those with shame, encouragement to those on the right path, warning to those who are not, and how choices we make have consequences.

Q: Any success stories?

A 12-year-old girl confided in me after a talk that she had planned to commit suicide because she felt guilty for having an abortion. After we spoke and prayed, she made the decision to live. She recently graduated from college. A boy who heard me speak made a decision to remain abstinent and he told me I inspired him to want to become a doctor. He just graduated from medical school as an infectious disease specialist.

Q: Are you working?

It's a full-time job managing my illness. To be honest, I have struggled in recent months with anxiety and depression. I'm working through these challenges everyday.

And then there are insurance claims, and that takes more time than ever.

Q: You've been married for 18 years. How do you navigate that relationship with AIDS?

Danny is negative for the virus. We know that every day is a gift from God, so we are intentional about spending quality time with each other, family and friends.

Q: Any children?

That is a true source of heartache for us. With me being infected so early on, the chances of transmitting (the disease) were 88 percent then. And I would never have been considered as a candidate to adopt, but we have two precious godchildren, James, 8, and Jordan, 4, who we adore.

Q: What are your plans?

My plans for now are not lofty. I'm striving for balance in all areas of my life. As I rely on the Lord for his strength, I will continue to reach out and share his love, his compassion and the hope we can only find in him.

Jennifer Rothacker: jrothacker@charlotteobserver.com

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