On January 15, our friend and co-worker Victor Pond died of AIDS. To attempt to prevent more unnecessary deaths, Achieve is publishing this tribute by one of his lifelong friends.
I write this to honor the memory of my friend and brother Victor Pond, who was senselessly robbed of his life by a group of despicable, selfish, raging idiots who prey on ailing members of the HIV community. A group that essentially murders vulnerable individuals who are in search of acceptance from society, family, and the religious communities to which they dedicated their lives.
Victor was a devout Christian from birth until death. He served faithfully for many years in his native Panama, and continued that commitment in the U.S. He served, taught, tithed, and ministered in song, oft-times without compensation. A trained lyrical tenor, he had the ability to sing in every musical genre and so was in high demand. He graced many recording sessions, sang jingles, and toured with several theatrical productions and artists. He was also a gifted chef and pastry artist. We ran a catering company together for 15 years in New York City before he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a counselor/social worker. He was passionate about his work in the HIV community and was determined to spread the word about the recent medical advancements. He sought to educate the community and inform them about the services available to anyone affected with the disease.
But Victor struggled with a lack of acceptance from his church and other circles, but was determined to live his life openly and without repression. This was not acceptable in his church. When he returned to New York City a few years ago, he was diagnosed with AIDS, but there was hope. He was excited about starting the new HIV treatments and was doing quite well. His health improved, he found a new job, a new apartment, and a new church in Harlem. Everything was great, except for the acceptance challenges he faced within his church.
Victor was an activist to his core -- he was born that way. He loathed injustice and intolerance on any level and was vocal and determined to effect change. But change was a foreign concept to his church -- they stood firm in their beliefs. So Victor paid a huge emotional price for his choices. His church community left him broken-hearted and searching until he found what he so desperately needed -- emotional acceptance and support -- offered by HIV denialists. They know that there are many within church communities in need of an emotional embrace.
It started with heated online debates where HIV denialists offered research and alternatives to mainstream HIV treatment. Victor spoke to friends and colleagues, who advised against following the recommendations made by the denialists. Then one day about two years ago, he came to me and announced that after much research he was going to try juicing and other alternative options that included veganism.
I cautioned Victor against this. What I didn't realize is that the denialists understand how to acquire information that helped them push their agenda. They work with their victims to help them convince family and friends to accept their decision to stop HIV treatment. I have been a vegan for over 30 years and understand the benefits of holistic healing. But one must be wise, have realistic expectations, and understand that there are times when mainstream medicine is the best choice.
I also work in the medical community and know for a fact there are wonderful advancements in medicine that have proven results in people with HIV. The current medications, in addition to a healthy diet and exercise, are helping many people with HIV live long, productive lives. This is not the AZT of years ago that indeed had a negative effect on the body. The medical approach is different these days. There has to be a partnership between the medicine and lifestyle. It is naive for anyone to think that juicing, a vegan diet, and the other alternative approaches promoted by HIV denialists will cure HIV or any AIDS-related disease.
Unfortunately, Victor followed the advice of the denialists and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia in 2013. He got treatment that instantly improved his health, with minimal side effects. So he went back on his HIV medications. But a few months later, the denialists convinced him that the pneumonia was just the body's natural response to the detoxification process and that he should be patient. Victor was convinced to try their method again.
Remember, these are HIV-negative people giving medical advice to HIV-positive people.
Victor ended up in the hospital again, and asked me to contact his church. I called the pastor. No visit, no prayers for this member. Shameful indeed. Victor's health deteriorated -- he slipped into a coma and was placed on life support. This lasted several months and we were informed that Victor's chances of survival were slim. At the request of a family member, I again reached out to the church and spoke with the pastor, who informed me that he "wasn't sure his schedule could accommodate a visit." He didn't come or even call Victor's family. Not another word. Finally, a nurse who worked at the hospital recognized Victor from his church and had a few deacons come and give him communion and pray for him while he was in the coma.
Victor's hospital stay over the next few months included aggressive treatment that saved his life. He survived, but had a long road ahead of him. The illness had wreaked havoc on his body. His doctors prescribed medications that would help him recover, but he would need assistance. So he moved to Virginia to live with his family, where he did well for months. He was up and about again, walking around and living.
Then he made a fatal mistake. He resumed correspondence and conversations with the denialists. It took months, but they managed to find a way in. Victor was lonely and slightly depressed, ailing and broken-hearted. He missed his friends and extended family and resented having to leave New York. The denialists offered what seemed like a logical remedy that would help him recover quickly and return to New York, cured of all ailments. They were relentless, and as Victor's body failed and his mind weakened, they finished the job.
The denialists use a type of negative mind conditioning that is effective on individuals rejected by their chosen belief system. It further alienates, damages, and destroys so many souls like Victor, people who are very susceptible to victimization. The HIV denialists seek out the "Victors" of the world and offers them a false embrace -- a lethal embrace that costs these gems their lives. The denialists manage to convince their victims that AIDS doesn't exist, that they are not sick, and that HIV meds, not the virus, are harmful. This error in thinking causes unnecessary deaths and unimaginable pain to the loved ones of the victims.
The negative attacks, manipulation, and other measures that HIV denialists offer are a sham. The approaches they recommend, do not work. They neither heal nor cure. In fact, their system kills every person who follows it. It weakens the body and diminishes its ability to fight the illnesses that come with AIDS. The only guaranteed outcome for anyone who follows their advice is a health breakdown, organ failure, and death. They must not be allowed to continue to infect these victims with their false "truths," which are essentially murder!
I miss Victor terribly. I can't deny that this is deeply personal for me. It was emotionally expensive for me to compose these words. How does one describe how such a beautiful soul has impacted her life? There are not enough words to describe all the positive contributions this amazing person made in my life and the lives of so many. Victor had the capacity to understand, love, and forgive unconditionally -- to make you smile from the inside out.
There is an emptiness inside me that is difficult to explain. Parts of me were lost when my closest friend/brother of 32 years left this earth ... part of the gem in me was lost when he died. Sometimes I feel anger and other times deep sorrow as I try to make sense of a senseless death. Sometimes I feel a sense of guilt for not being able to love Victor enough and save him from this group. Why couldn't I fix this? I should have been able to stop this, and I tried, as did many coworkers and friends. But we all failed.
In reality, the blame does not rest with us, for we too are victims of the HIV denialists. Fixing this will require a more powerful source than "I" or "self." It requires "we" or "us," uniting to eradicate a destructive group that moves in the shadows of the internet. "We" are the positive and powerful force that can bring about change! Those who loved Victor and those who love gems like him are left with the difficult, though not impossible, task of informing others about the work of the denialists and the hundreds of human carcasses left behind as a result of their evil manipulation and conditioning. The mass murders must stop! Our gems are precious, valuable souls. Not another soul lost. It stops ... now!
Submitted in loving memory of Victor Pond.