FORT LAUDERDALE — An online fundraising effort has been launched to benefit local artist and photographer Valyn Calhoun, who was recently diagnosed with HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis B.
The life-threatening experience of Calhoun, 29, began when he was molested by a staff member when he was in pre-school, an incident that Calhoun says had a lasting impact upon him and his life.
“I was a sex addict, plain and simple,” Calhoun admits. “Multiple different partners a day.”
Calhoun—who was the subject of a cover feature last year in our sister publication, Guy Magazine (May 17, 2012: “The Art of Valyn”)—says that memories of his childhood molestation returned to him like a blow from a hammer.
“One day while I was driving, I passed by a house that was familiar,” he recalls. “I realized it was my old pre-school, and that it has since been turned into a house. From there, things started to come back to me. The memories of my molestation had been repressed for so long.”
Calhoun says that when he discovered and understood the cause for his addiction, he immediately began to practice celibacy. But it was too late.
His health began to decline, and Calhoun started to exhibit symptoms including hair loss, skin rashes, vomiting, and hallucinations. In the throes of alarming weight loss, the 95-pound Calhoun checked into a hospital.
He says that the representative from his insurance carrier assured him that the eight-day hospital stay would be covered, but that somewhere between the hospital’s diagnosis of HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis B, that decision quickly changed.
“I was told by my insurance rep that I was covered for hospital stays,” Calhoun wrote online, at a website dedicated to soliciting donations for those in his condition and circumstances. “I was admitted for eight days until we found out I was lied to and became ‘self-pay;’ they practically kicked me out with no treatment.”
Calhoun says that although he had been tested yearly using an oral swab test, those tests apparently aren’t 100 percent accurate, and that he is living proof; he was told that doctors estimate he contracted the virus between seven and nine years ago.
Discharged from the hospital within hours of the insurance denial, Calhoun is now bedridden. He is working with the Ryan White Foundation for help with his disability eligibility, doctor visits, and treatment, but says he is buried in hospital bills and a large debt to his family.
On his donation page (which can be found at giveforward.com/hivaidstreatmentforvalyn), Calhoun reports, “I have been unable to work for so long, and my parents have been doing everything in their power to support me. We are selling everything of value so I may have a chance for quality care. Savings have been depleted and I’m scared this will financially ruin my parents. I’ve never been the kind of person to ask for money or even help for that matter—I’m just terrified that I won’t get on the right meds in time to raise my t-cells over 200, [and] my current viral load is over four million.
“ANY help would be greatly appreciated. I am a fighter and know I can get through this. I just need some help right now. I put up a picture of my body. It may scare some but this is something I see every day.”
Calhoun says that he is trying to remain upbeat, and look to the future. “I’m really just looking forward to the day when I will have the energy to work on my art and photography again,” he explains. “I want to be able to help the community by showing that you can come back from the brink and still live a happy life.”