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ASU student uses YouTube to document his first year being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS

Daniel Orton poses for a potrait at the Farmer Education Building, on Feb. 10, 2016, in Tempe, AZ.

Secondary education junior Daniel Orton sits alone at a table in the atrium of the Farmer Education building, wearing a bright gold shirt.

As Orton looks up, smiles and his presence fills the room.

Behind that smile is a story of the trials and triumphs he's endured over the course of his 27 years of life.

A year ago, Orton received news that would change his life from then on: He was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

“When I found out, my first instinct was: 'Holy s--t, what about my partner? What about him? Is he OK?'” he said.

When Orton received his diagnosis, he was also suffering from seizures from a brain disease called Encephalitis, which has affected a majority of his memory loss and other basic functions. 

Leading up to his diagnosis, however, was a journey within itself.

When Daniel came out as gay at age 15, his relationship with his stepmother became strained, and it was so stressful that he moved out to live with his mother. Orton eventually decided to pursue higher education, moving to ASU from his home in North Carolina.

Fast forward one year, and the diagnosis he received put more stress on his already strained private life.

Biological Life Sciences Director Bertram Jacobs has been working on a HIV vaccination for the past ten years. He said he normally tells his students three facts they need to know about HIV.

"First, you can't look at someone and know that they're infected with HIV," Jacobs said. "The only way to know is to get a test. Second, there is no cure, once infected with HIV, you're infected with it for the rest of your life."

Contrary to popular belief, Jacobs said the third fact about HIV/AIDS is that it can only be contracted through sexual intercourse, blood and from mother to child.

"Unless you're doing one of those three things, you're not going to get infected with HIV," Jacobs said. "You can't get HIV from hugging from someone who is HIV positive."

As Daniel talks about the past year living with HIV/AIDS and the effects of it, he pauses, reaches into his school bag and sets three orange prescription bottles on the table, rattling the dozens of tiny pills inside. 

These pills are meant to assist with his health, but for Orton, the pills were often a sign of something else: suicide.

“There have been days where I’m like, ‘Why don’t I just do that?’” Orton said. “'Why don’t I just make everything easier on my partner and our closest friends who are having such a hard time dealing with me?'”

Despite Orton’s battle with depression, he pressed on, eventually finding a relief in his YouTube channel, where he decided to take on the project of documenting his first year after his diagnosis.

“I had been struggling with a little bit of depression,” Orton said. “So the YouTube channel was sort of therapeutic in a way, it’s just to kind of get things out in the open.”

Orton will share his story this week with Devils in the Bedroom, a sexual health organization on campus. Sustainability senior Kaelyn Polick-Kirkpatrick of DITB said she is looking forward to Orton's presentation, but also stressed the importance of acceptance of others.

"People with HIV are not bound to die. They can receive care," Polick-Kirkpatrick said. "They are deserving of love like everyone else."

Orton said his journey being HIV positive has been one that he shared with others, but that if someone shares their HIV diagnoses, it should be welcomed with respectful questions and support.

“If they don’t want other people knowing, don’t tell people,” Orton said. “If they only want you knowing, take it as an honor. Take it like they’re coming out to you.”

Correction: Due to a source error, a previous version of this article contained incorrect information. This version has been updated to remove this information.

Related Links:

Students, advocates paint for HIV, AIDS on Hayden Lawn for World AIDS Day

Hope for a Cure

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