If you toured an art gallery and found Don Carrel’s “self-portrait,” you just might be astonished to note how healthy he appears. From that point on, imagine what could happen next:
•You and he immediately lock eyes.
•His smile alone keeps you feeling happy and safe. The viewer can’t help but smile back. And a connection has been established.
•His facial features resemble a person of humble and soft character, without sharp distortions and any abstract designs or over exaggerated lines.
•From his portrait alone, an aura of grace and kindness surround the entire body of the gallery. Art lovers sense his glow as it flows through them, touching each one with a warmth that they might not have ever experienced before. That embrace itself is enough to last a lifetime.
Today, when people gather around Don Carrel, they might recall this quote by an unknown author: “Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is so powerful as hope. With hope, one can think, one can work, one can dream. If you have hope, you have everything.”
Life, like art, is not always how it seems. Carrel would not be alive today had it not been for a “miracle,” a dream sent by a “messenger,” that gave him the strength to get out of the hospital and embark on a most passionate mission: to speak to thousands of people, teens and adults alike, to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Carrel knows all about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS.)
While in the hospital, Carrel developed the most common form of death for someone with AIDS: Pneumocystis pneumonia.
In his memoirs, “My Dream to Trample AIDS: What Everyone At Any Age Should Know About HIV/AIDS,” Carrel writes of his struggle with HIV/AIDS exposing his innermost secrets through personal reflection and quotes and letters from numerous teens and adults who continue to admire him for speaking out about the importance of understanding HIV/AIDS. These testimonial letters prove that he is a well-respected and honest man.
Teachers, students, parents and authorities on the local Kansas and national level attest to his cause and bravery.
Carrel, who graduated from K-State in 1973, and currently lives in Mission, contracted HIV in 1981. It was a time when the medical world and anyone else, for that matter, knew little or close to nothing about HIV and AIDS and how dangerous the viruses could be to the body-physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Carrel was living his life, happy to be surrounded by family and close friends. He didn’t realize that he had contracted HIV until he was tested in 1986. And in 1995, he contracted AIDS.
Many Manhattan residents, visitors to the town and scores of other Kansas residents remember Carrel as the owner of Kitchens Plus and The Croissant Cafe which were located in the Westloop Shopping Center in the 1980s. He had been involved with his very successful businesses at that time and received many favorable comments from shop lovers regarding the unique merchandise.
In 1991, it hurt him deeply to have to close his businesses.
“...I was terrified not only that I would die, but also that the public would learn of my condition and my businesses would cease to exist,” he said in an interview. “As a result, I was forced to live secretly with HIV until closing my businesses in 1991.”
In 1995, he was literally in the hospital on his deathbed .
“I had a dream where I was ‘informed’ I would not die—but would live to teach teenagers and adults what they needed to know to prevent HIV,” he said. “Since the night of my dream, I’ve shared my story with well over 100,000 people.”
In an effort to expand his prevention message, Carrel wrote his book, “My Dream to Trample AIDS…,” which was originally published in November 2011.
A great deal of what he calls, “my story,” discusses in detail his life in Manhattan during the days when HIV/AIDS was considered to be fatal.
Carrel, of course, feels very fortunate to be alive, spreading his knowledge to others regarding proper sexual relationships, dispelling myths about HIV/AIDS (i.e., in truth, it can’t be caught through hugging, touching, being near someone who has HIV/AIDS.)
He is frank when writing about the proper way to use a condom and stresses the importance of learning about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs.)
One of his biggest fears today is how teens and adults will let all the important information regarding HIV/AIDS slip through their fingers and from their minds due to the certain types of treatment available to those infected. In previous years, there were no treatments whatsoever. Some of the treatments today may work for some individuals and not for others who are infected. HIV/AIDS remains to this day a threatening virus that can truly upset one’s entire being and life.
Carrel says to never take chances. It’s a matter of being safe rather than sorry.
Carrel is pleased to know how many people have been inspired by his personal and moving experiences. In his book, he writes passionately of close friends who have died as a result of having contracted the virus.
People can have the opportunity to meet Carrel during a special book signing event in Manhattan hosted by three of his friends: Ronda Parry, C.P. Ward and Nancy Kiefer. From 2-5 p.m., Saturday, June 16, Carrel will be at Bluestem Bistro in Aggieville.
He plans to sign copies of his book and talk about his life-altering “dream” that led him on a mission, which might have helped prevent thousands of young people from getting HIV/AIDS.
Copies of his book will be available at the signing or in advance at Varney’s. Copies also will be available through Varney’s and Amazon.com.
Carol Wright is a freelance writer and resides in Winfield.