A Celebration of Life
Long-term Survivor Jim Foley Looks Toward the Next Thirty Years of Helping Others
by Connie Rose
Photos by Louis Carr
When Jim Foley first diagnosed positive for HIV in 1988, he was working at Bally’s Hotel and Casino. At that time, he was also told he was living with an AIDS diagnosis, and only had five T cells. Which, of course, were promptly named, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Fred, and Barney.
“The first five years, I didn’t even tell my family,” Foley said. “Probably one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to have with my parents was letting them know that I was gay, I have HIV/AIDS and I would be dead in six months.”
He was only twenty-six when he was diagnosed and he barely survived cryptosporidium early in his diagnosis. However, Jim was given a second chance when he was chosen for a clinical trial study and the investigational agent worked. His young age and his good health before diagnosis were both factors and contributors to the success of the clinical trial. Others in the trial did not survive and Jim is noticeably shaken today when he talks about that time of his life.
“The generation that’s coming up behind us is kind of ignorant to what happened in the 1980s. They didn’t see the death,” Foley said. More than 7,000 people still die every year in the United States due to HIV/AIDS related complications.
He moved back to Boston when his infectious diseases doctor told him “it was time.” But after the clinical trial worked and he realized he wasn’t going to die, he knew that Las Vegas was where he wanted to be.
Foley has dedicated his life to helping others who live with HIV and educating those who do not. Much of his life has been spent in service to the HIV community, first as a volunteer at local events and then as an HIV tester and counselor, and workshop facilitator. He went on to become a case manager for other people living with HIV, and an HIV Outreach Coordinator and HIV Peer Advocate. You can’t go anywhere in this town where someone hasn’t heard his name or knows about Jim Foley. The clients trust him, the pharmacy reps respect him, the agencies all know, Foley is a fixture in the Las Vegas HIV community, and he is here to stay.
If you follow his story you will note that Jim has always put people first. The groups he created were designed to empower the participant to do more in their day-to-day life as an out and proud person living with HIV. He did not force or encourage people to disclose if it was going to put them in harm’s way. But if his mentees did not have a good excuse, well, let’s just say, he is very encouraging.
For example, his two-day training with certification course, Speak Up-Speak Out, gives the people who are usually being talked to the opportunity to be the person telling their story. For many this class is the only time they will have the chance to stand in front of a group and tell their story to an audience. After this training he then scheduled speaking engagements for individuals who were willing to speak at the local agencies to share their story of diagnosis. Jim takes the men and women separately, making safe spaces for everyone.
For some, that opportunity sparks a desire to do it over and over and they take that training and make it part of their growing portfolio. Many of his mentees are now working as successful peer navigators, public speakers, case managers, and Health Care Worker’s in the HIV Community.
For multiple years, he planned and coordinated the “Getting to Zero” HIV Summit held at The Center, so that healthcare workers, physicians, and clinicians had the opportunity to hear from people living with HIV. Foley understands the still very wide gap between patient and provider and works to bridge that gap by maintaining his connection to the community of people living with HIV.
Now as he crosses this new plateau of joining the thirty-year club, he does so while being part of a new set of navigators. This time though his focus is not specifically on people who are living with HIV. But this time his focus is on people who are not living with HIV.
He is one of Las Vegas’s PrEP Navigators, helping people who are not living with HIV access PrEP (pre-exposire prophylaxis) so they can potentially stay HIV-negative even if they are exposed to HIV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by taking PrEP every day, a person can lower their risk of acquiring HIV from sex by more than ninety percent and from injection drug use by more than seventy percent.
A PrEP Navigator provides intensive care coordination, support and services. They will help someone interested in accessing PrEP and remaining in PrEP care. They can also help reestablish PrEP patients who are out of care with medical and pharmacy teams to aid them to link back into care.
Using a client-centered approach they will assist clients with services such as, but not limited to, health insurance enrollment, PrEP provider identification, appointment scheduling, management of clinical costs, appointment reminders, education of the benefits of PrEP and ongoing maintenance.
Here are some of the job details if you are interested in becoming a PrEP Navigator: identify potential PrEP clients and those in need of PrEP navigation services; provide support to HIV negative individuals who are interested in starting PrEP and those already utilizing PrEP care; complete screenings to identify readiness for PrEP and other barriers to care and work with client to identify position solutions; make referrals for external services needed to support PrEP care and follow up to ensure service delivery; provide outreach to relevant communities with a focus on the men who have sex with men of color (MSMOC) community, among other duties.
This is not a complete list and is constantly changing and updating to meet the needs of the community.
A few months ago, Jim Foley who is usually so humble and quiet about his accomplishments decided he was going to throw a huge Celebration of Life event to mark surviving thirty years since his diagnosis. Usually a celebration of life marks the passing of a loved one. Thankfully for those who love Foley this was a celebration of survival.
On April 6, 2019, at 3 p.m. there was a beautiful celebration of life event at The Center, located in Las Vegas, where Jim Foley, alive and well, could be found surrounded by family and friends. They marked the day with laughter and joy, sharing memories, and making plans for what Jim will be doing for his next thirty years! This celebration was not only about him surviving AIDS, but it was also about all his combined accomplishments and all the lives he has touched along the way.
There were more than 150 people gathered on that day to enjoy some wonderful speakers, food, drinks, a mariachi band, dancing, and a balloon wall for pictures. There was a beautiful tribute of videos from clients and friends.
What is important to Foley these days? Well, his health is at the top of that list, but so is slowing down to enjoy self-care and time with friends and family he never expected to have.
What has Foley learned over the last thirty years? “Eat as healthy as possible, enjoy sunshine and good friends, share your love with someone special, have a dog, work hard every day, and have a lot of plants!”
You can find Jim Foley on Facebook at: /james.foley.3388.
Connie Rose is a PLHIV living in Las Vegas, NV. They sit on the LV Ryan White TGA Planning Council, So. NV HIV Prevention Planning Group, and the Southern Nevada HIV Awareness Consortium. They are also State Lead for Positive Women’s Network in Nevada, and a 3rd year PWN-USA Policy Fellow. Find her on Facebook: /connie.rose.739; and on Twitter @Cricketlv.