By Adriana Gutierrez-Kirk, Director of Housing, Jerusalem House Scattered Site Programs
Adriana started at AID Atlanta in 1999 as a Case Manager. She was assigned a client named “Olivia” who she met for the first time at Grady Hospital. Olivia had been admitted to Grady and diagnosed with AIDS. She weighed 50 pounds and was being kept in isolation. Despite being trained medical professionals, the staff were afraid to have prolonged contact with Olivia.
Before becoming ill, Olivia had long hair. The nurses cut it short so they wouldn’t have to maintain it. During her daily visits, Adriana would brush Olivia’s hair and do her makeup because she wanted her to feel like a woman again.
Adriana became very close with Olivia’s mother, and her family was appreciative for all Adriana did. One day, the doctors said they could do nothing more for Olivia, as she was resistant to all AIDS medication. They wanted her moved into hospice. Sadly, Olivia had come into the country illegally, making her ineligible for government services. Adriana was able to arrange for a hospital bed to be brought to Olivia’s apartment.
One day, during a visit, Olivia asked Adriana what size shoe she wore. Adriana replied, “7 and a half.” Olivia said, “I have these shoes I bought before I got sick, and I would like to give them to you.” As a Case Manager, Adriana knew that she was not supposed to take gifts. But in Latinx culture, it is very common for people to give gifts to show appreciation. Olivia and her mother insisted that Adriana take the shoes to thank her for being such an advocate and devoted friend. Adriana told Olivia she would wear them to AIDS Walk Atlanta every year in honor of her and her fight against AIDS.
Early one morning, Olivia’s mother called Adriana, believing her daughter was dying. Olivia was asking for her. Adriana rushed straight over. Olivia was in pain and scared. Adriana sat with her and comforted her as she passed. Adriana called the coroner and helped Olivia’s mother and sister with funeral preparations. Because Olivia had died of AIDS, the funeral director refused to have an open casket, because they did not want to have to touch Olivia’s body for any longer than necessary. Olivia’s mother asked Adriana to make Olivia pretty like she used to do in the hospital. Adriana met Olivia’s sister at the funeral home and helped dress Olivia, brush her hair, and apply her final makeup. Adriana says, “the decision to prepare her body was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but I did it for her mother.”
Adriana has worn Olivia’s shoes at AIDS Walk Atlanta every year since 1999. Last year one of the soles fell off, so Adriana keeps Olivia’s memory alive by wearing the shoes around her neck. Every year, Adriana walks in memory of Olivia and all those who have lost their lives to AIDS.
Please consider a donation to our AIDS Walk team this year. We need you more than ever!