HIV/AIDS sufferers’ families deal with rural perceptions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 30, 2003

Editor’s note: Monday is World AIDS Day. This is the second of three stories in conjunction in conjunction with the day, designed to create awareness and educate the public about the disease.

By Benjamin Dipman, Tribune staff writer

Albert Lea residents need more AIDS education, but they are not oblivious to the issue, said some who have been involved in AIDS awareness in rural areas.

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Karen Houge, whose son, Doug, suffers from AIDS, said that there is not enough AIDS knowledge in the area. &uot;They don’t see it here,&uot; she said. &uot;They believe it’s happening someplace else.&uot;

Karen tries her best to educate people by attending a support group and talking to anybody who is willing to listen. But she’s lived in Albert Lea since she was 4 and believes that perception has not changed &uot;on the whole.&uot; She said some people have become more open, but in order for significant perceptions to change, &uot;They have to know somebody who’s got it.&uot;

Yet she believes that changing attitudes, person by person, is important. &uot;Maybe somebody will call me and say that they need to talk,&uot; Karen said. If so, she said she will be there.

Joyce Rhody’s son is also suffering from AIDS. She has spent many hours educating students, medical employees and legislators about the disease. She believes that &uot;urban areas are much more aware&uot; of the problem and through her discussions is trying to spread awareness.

She compares AIDS to cancer. There was a point, she said, when discussions of cancer were taboo, but now people speak about it freely. She hopes the same will happen with AIDS.

Are Joyce’s educational tactics helping? &uot;I hope so,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s very hard to know.&uot;

At the end of many talks Joyce and family members think to themselves, &uot;We think we did some good. We hope we did some good.&uot;

John Besse, a psychologist at the Freeborn County Mental Health Center, co-faciliates a support group that began in 1995 when a local man died of AIDS. &uot;We realized we needed to get a support group going,&uot; he said. Some of the original members still attend.

But some came &uot;for a while, got what they needed and left.&uot; Besse said the group is small and not growing. &uot;That’s one of the issues we have&uot; he, said. &uot;We’d like to have more people come.&uot;

Karen’s son, Doug, said HIV/AIDS education needs to be increased everywhere, not just rural areas. He is trying to build support for an AIDS awareness program in the Twin Cities called What’s Up.

Doug said, &uot;I’m trying to get as much publicity out as possible.&uot; A goal of the organization, he said, is to simply spread information about AIDS.

&uot;People should be able to explain (AIDS) to their kids,&uot; he said. &uot;Prejudices come from lack of knowledge.&uot;

But though his efforts are focused in the metro area, he said residents in rural areas also need education. &uot;It’s not a hot topic&uot; in Albert Lea, he said. He thinks the fact that &uot;anybody can get&uot; the disease should be dispersed. &uot;None of us are immune to it. We should be talking about it.&uot;

However, he had some positive things to say about local perception. Regarding knowledge, Doug said, &uot;I think people in Albert Lea are doing very well. They don’t have as many resources&uot; as people in urban areas.

Doug said that he would like to bring rural people to the Twin Cities so that they can utilize some of the resources and talk to some sufferers.

Mike Seltun, who is HIV-positive, attends the AIDS support group in Albert Lea. He said that the virus is &uot;not something that’s really talked about&uot; in Frost, a small town about 40 minutes southwest of Albert Lea. But he does not spend time trying to educate people, because he does not know much about the virus.

&uot;I just know how I feel, how it affects me.&uot; Residents, he said, &uot;don’t know how to react.&uot;

(Contact Benjamin Dipman at or call 379-3439.)