"I remember crying a little bit."
For those living with HIV/AIDS, tears are often a common response to a diagnosis.
Today, WUOT 91.9 is presenting "I'm Still Here: My HIV Life," a special broadcast on the disease along with a live Q&A.
As a disease often dismissed, the WUOT producers sought to renew HIV awareness in the Knoxville community.
"Despite advances in treatment, people are still getting this disease," said Leslie Snow, the show's producer. "There are people in Knoxville struggling to live with it and manage their symptoms. Through our research for the show, we learned that nearly half of all new HIV infections in the United States occur in the South."
Matt Shafer Powell, the show's executive producer, expressed his desire to use the feature as a wake-up call for the community.
"An HIV diagnosis is no longer an automatic death sentence," Powell said. "However, the result is that Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security about it ... The truth is it's still a difficult and potentially deadly disease that takes an emotional and physical toll on those who suffer from it.
"We wanted to let our listeners know that HIV is still there, it's still real, and people still suffer from it."
In partnership with Positively Living, a Knoxville-based agency that provides housing and support to lower-income people suffering from HIV/AIDS, WUOT recruited individuals willing to share their journey publicly.
"We try to show what it's like to live with HIV by weaving individual stories together," Snow said. "There's no narrator, just these five very personal stories blended with archival news reports about the early days of AIDS/HIV."
As the director of the UT Outreach LGBT and ALLY Resource Center, Donna Braquet works daily with the community most commonly affected by HIV.
"Before it was understood, AIDS was sometimes called GRID, Gay Related Immunodeficiency," Braquet said. "It was considered a 'gay disease' or the disease of intravenous drug users and others deemed as unimportant at the time."
In Braquet's opinion, the possibility of contracting HIV is still an issue students should consider when participating in sexual activity.
"Although HIV/AIDS is not a quick death sentence like it was in the '80s and '90s, it is still a serious disease that requires expensive and ongoing treatment," Braquet said. "My fear is that college students these days will become complacent in protecting themselves because they have never known the darkest days of AIDS."
UT provides several resources for students of all sexual orientations to stay protected. In addition to free HIV testing opportunities each semester, the OUTreach Center, S.E.E. Center and Student Health Center offer condoms and other forms of protection for sexually active students.
"I think that since high schools do not provide comprehensive sexual health education, young people do not know a lot about contraceptives, condoms and other barriers, or how to negotiate safe sex situations with a partner," Braquet said. "My hope is that all students will take a proactive and healthy approach to sex, using protection every time and getting tested every six months."
Stretching the limits of traditional radio specials, WUOT's feature will extend in length to 10 minutes, six more than an NPR special. In addition, a unique technique was used to invoke emotion in this feature.
"It feels much more like a montage of voices and sounds than a typical feature story. There's no narrator," Powell said. "One person described it as a 'carousel of sounds' that pass before you and tell the story of what it's like to live with HIV."
Ultimately, Snow and Powell hope the show will encourage listeners to think about the lives of those living with HIV in a new light.
"I think the show allows listeners to walk a mile in someone else's shoes," Snow said, "to hear first-hand what it's like to get this devastating diagnosis, share the news with family, and then find a way to carry on."