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13 Random Victims of an Indiscriminate Killer--AIDS : Some of the Stories Behind the Death Toll Include a Businessman, Wife and Mother, Former Priest, Child and Ballet Dancer

May 24, 1987|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

The statistics about acquired immune deficiency syndrome are easily available: 20,557 Americans have died, nearly 2,000 of those in Los Angeles County. By 1991, there will be 270,000 cases of AIDS. Nationally, health-care costs for AIDS patients have been estimated at $100 million so far; by 1991, they are expected to reach $8 billion.

But the names of its victims often are not so accessible, such is the stigma of the disease.

Almost from the time it was first detected in Los Angeles in 1981 in six gay men, AIDS became known as "the gay plague." Though many still think of it as a disease that only affects homosexuals, AIDS knows no barriers. And there is no known cure.

"Because of AIDS, we have learned to read the obituaries for what they really don't say," a Los Angeles music critic said. "Twenty-eight- or 30-year-old so-and-so died of lymphoma, liver cancer, pneumonia. Everybody knows that means AIDS in most cases, but they don't say it in print."

When actor Rock Hudson collapsed on his way to France for treatment for AIDS, his publicists first denied the film star had the disease. Finally, they admitted that the AIDS reports were true.

In Palm Springs, Liberace's death from AIDS became an even more bizarre cover-up. The cause of the entertainer's death was only revealed after a coroner's autopsy.

But it is not only the rich and famous who deny the disease.

A black mother in South-Central Los Angeles refused to say publicly that her son died of AIDS because "it could jeopardize my family. It can and has happened with other families."

The ex-lover of a well-known local gay man who reportedly died of AIDS declined to be interviewed about the subject.

A Latina woman did not want to discuss her plight because she was afraid she would be evicted from her residence. She has contracted AIDS; her husband died of it.

But others are outspoken about the disease, willing to tell their personal tragedies. Their stories are filled with pain and courage, love and support of those they cared for who became PWAs, Persons With AIDS. And died.

BRUCE WURL

On Jan. 6, Joy Wurl received a call from her son, Bruce, who was in Koblenz, West Germany, performing with a dance troupe. He said he had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia and had to go to the hospital.

Twelve days later, Bruce Wurl, 30, was dead.

"He had come home to visit in October," said Joy Wurl, who lives in Garden Grove and works as a legal secretary in Long Beach. "He seemed fine. There was no indication he was sick. I knew he was gay, and that's hard to understand when you're not. But he was my son, and I loved him. He didn't know he had AIDS.

"I can't even read the death certificate, it's in German," she said. "But from what I've read about AIDS, it's a blessing he did not have to suffer long, like some."

The Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, of which Wurl had been a member, dedicated its performances of "Little Prince" this season to Wurl.

"Bruce's death was a tremendous shock to all of us," said the Chamber Ballet's Raiford Rogers. "He was such a strong dancer in wonderful condition. But the dance community has been very hard hit by this disease. Everybody in dance knows somebody who has died of AIDS."

DON REYNOLDS

Don Reynolds, who with his wife, Pat, operated two computer and word-processing stores, was diagnosed with AIDS in February, 1985. He died two months later, a few months before their 24th wedding anniversary.

"He had gotten pneumonia in November and was in the hospital a week," Reynolds said in her Santa Monica home. "They didn't do any further testing and we thought it was just regular pneumonia (not the serious form of pneumocystis that is the No. 1 killer of AIDS patients).

"What doctor would have thought to test a 42-year-old married man with three children?" said Reynolds. "Now it would be different. He got pneumonia again in two weeks. Then, when he found out he had AIDS, he just wasted away. He lost the will to live and he lost 100 pounds. He did get to see his son get married; Don and Kelly were married in his room. He also got to see his first grandchild."

Pat Reynolds said she has no idea where her husband contracted AIDS, and neither did he. "We had a very active sex life," she said. "And the only thing we could remember about a blood transfusion was that he had one in Arizona in 1977, when he had gotten hepatitis. Anything other than a blood transfusion doesn't matter to me. He was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father. I am not saying he was a saint. But he was a basically good person. One of the best testaments to him are his good children."

Pat Reynolds, now 46, spent the last months of her husband's life caring for him in their bedroom. She tried to keep their businesses going, but eventually lost them both. She now works as a secretary/accountant at a legal firm.

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