Watch CBSN Live

A Look Back: The AIDS Anniversary

On this day, 20 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first reported a mysterious illness found in five gay men in Los Angeles. It was the first official notice of a nameless disease that would become known as AIDS, which has so far killed nearly 22 million people worldwide.

There's no cure for AIDS, but advances in treatment have allowed HIV-infected patients to live longer than once dreamed possible.

LaGena Lookabill Greene, 40, has lived with AIDS for almost as long as the United States has. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1987.

"I was 26 years old, and told I had 2 years to live," she recalls.

Instead, LaGena has defied the experts.

"I have been close to dying about nine different times," she says.

LaGena says she was infected by Tim Richmond--a dashing NASCAR driver who died from AIDS in 1987. She says the only time they had sex was the night she accepted his third marriage proposal.

"I do believe that he knew he was infected when he asked me to marry him and we consummated the relationship," LaGena says.

LaGena grew up in North Carolina. She excelled in school, won beauty contests, and dreamed of being an actress. But her career in music videos, TV, and movies was abruptly cut short.

"In the beginning, I developed real self-contempt and self-hatred because of the shameful stigma of this disease," she says.

But she has overcome those feelings through her religious faith and daily doses of 35 pills.

"You feel the protease inhibitors hit your stomach," she says. "You can feel the exact moment they get there, because there is this incredible burning."

Dr. Joseph Jemsek treats LaGena and 400 other AIDS and HIV patients.

"The virus decimated her immune system and she was wide open for 5 years and survived," Jemsek says. "That is remarkable. She's the only one I know of that has done that."

LaGena actually picked out her casket and planned her funeral.

"Instead of being on my death bed, 6 months later I was climbing the Matterhorn with my mom," she says. "I don't set long term goals. I set short term goals."

For instance, she cherishes spending time with Danny, her husband of 11 years. He is HIV negative and is tested twice a year.

"We don't engage in risky activity and yet we have a very fulfilling romance and sexual relationship in our marriage," he says. "I'm 46 years old now and I hope LaGena's here for my 50th birthday. That would be one heck of a milestone."

"Sometimes it's easier to look into the future than other times. Right now I'm really excited and wondering what's next for me," she says.

©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue