Willie Curran lives for moments in life.
Over the years, sometimes just the thought of a dinner with friends and family, is what has gotten him through his most challenging times.
“He’s an amazing person. He's been through a lot,” said friend and caregiver, Dustin Clayton.
In 1989, Willie was infected with HIV. He developed full-blown AIDS.
A Columbus doctor asked him if he wanted to live or die.
“If you want to live, I'll help you. If you want to die, I won't waste my time,” the doctor said, according to Willie.
Dying wasn't an option for Willie, but life was suddenly different.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome meant the chef had to leave the restaurant profession he loved.
His work became "surviving" - overcoming serious health setback, after setback that affected everything from his vision to his ability to walk - even breathe.
“I've received last rights three times in the hospital. They thought I was close to death many a time,” said Willie.
And, every time, he came back.
To understand Willie’s dogged determination to live, all you have to do is wander into his back yard. One year he decided to track what it took to stay alive. In 2011, he would hang empty pill bottles on the fence, one-by-one as he finished them.
All the while, Willie had the help of his loved ones, but his wall was his way of saying he would stand on his own.
Willie hopes his victory will give hope to other people who have to walk the path he's taken. Just by living, and living with moxie, he teaches people something about HIV and AIDS.
“It's not a death sentence. It's not something to hide about.
Dustin thinks Willie’s story can put fears to rest and educate people while lessening stigmas.
“Actually, I feel my life is so much better knowing him,” said another friend, Herman White.
“If you do know someone who has HIV, don't treat them differently. They're still human beings. They don't need pity. They need your love,” added Willie.
Willie’s friends will be walking with him April 19th. They are on his team for the 2014 AIDS Wallk Central Ohio. The event raises awareness and money for HIV/AIDS service organizations.
To learn more go to aidswalkcentralohio.com