South MS Man Talks About Life With HIV

A South Mississippi man hopes to slow the spread of a deadly disease by spreading the word about the dangers of HIV. Mark French loves music and is a Red Cross volunteer. He's also a man living with HIV. French contracted HIV back in '80s through unprotected sex. He says back then he wasn't concerned about the risks. But these days, he's committed to educating people so they will be.

Three times a day Mark French reaches for his medication. He swallows 20 pills every 24 hours for everything from nausea to arthritis, which are side effects from taking his HIV-AIDS drugs.

"I don't like it, but I just keep going, take the pills, and do what I'm supposed to," said French. " I eat right, exercise and basically that's what's got me along for the past 16 years."

French says March 21, 1988 was a day that forever changed his life. This Christmas the 39-year-old will be spend the holiday at group home for AIDS patients. Most of his family turned their backs on him because of his disease.

"Most of the time I have a defensive mechanism that I keep putting up when I meet new people and it takes a while to knock it down," said French.

Before the interview, I offered to only use only his first name and even to disguise his face. He declined.

"It helps other people realize that there's a face to the disease, and it's not just a couple of people. It can hit any family, anytime."

French has learned to accept a lot in the last 16 years - his disease, his family's reaction and his own mortality.

"They told me I had six months and since I love proving people wrong, here I am."

South Mississippi has one of the highest rates of HIV in the state. In the six southernmost counties, there are 1,049 people infected with HIV or AIDS. Of that, 559 live in Harrison County.