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Dallas Morning News

Frisco man battles AIDS, educates youth on disease


Not even a deadly disease can keep Frisco's most prominent AIDS patient from his goal.

Glenn Kopanski, 50, dreamed of a lifelong career in the Navy, but the disease intervened. Now he has turned his sights to serving youths.

Once a stalwart sailor, Mr. Kopanski has spent half his lifetime battling AIDS and other illnesses. He needs a daily regimen of more than 70 pills to keep him going on his mission, educating young people about the dangers of AIDS.

"It's for the youth of our country," said Mr. Kopanski, one of the longest-surviving AIDS patients in the United States. "This is my drive in life. That's maybe why I'm still alive."

Mr. Kopanski has given free talks to more than 10,000 young people in schools, colleges and churches across North Texas.

Recently, the National Association of Social Workers gave Mr. Kopanski its 2008 Public Citizen of the Year award for Texas.

"He's really gone out of his way to educate children," said his friend Todd Shilling, 46.

People 25 and younger make up the majority of new AIDS patients in the area, said Dr. Ronald Aldridge, executive director of AIDS Services of North Texas, where Mr. Kopanski serves as a patient advocate.

"Nobody, in my knowledge, in the U.S. has educated that many children about HIV and AIDS," Dr. Aldridge said. "He's a wonderful person with a huge heart."

Early on, Mr. Kopanski never thought this would be in his mission in life.

Born in Germany in 1957, he was adopted by Americans at age 2. He followed their footsteps, enlisting in the Navy at 17.

In the early 1980s, while receiving a tonsillectomy, Mr. Kopanski received a transfusion of blood tainted with AIDS and hepatitis C.

Back then, AIDS was a little-known disease with no medication. All the other patients who tested positive with him died within a year. He was told to prepare for death at age 25.

Since then, Mr. Kopanski has been in a constant fight for his life, not only to survive near fatal infections but also to face the social stigma and discrimination that plague AIDS patients.

"I accepted all that and I went through it with a smiling face because I knew I had a goal to do," he said.

Rosemarie Odom, president of C.U.R.E � Community, Unity, Respect, and Education, a group that promotes HIV/AIDS awareness in schools � said Mr. Kopanski's work has affected many young minds.

"Seeing somebody with AIDS is so totally different than hearing about AIDS," she said. "It's very inspirational to these young kids."

Mr. Kopanski expects to reach out to other AIDS patients when he receives his award in November in Galveston.

"I'm hoping that this would be an open door policy for AIDS patients to get out in the community and to make a difference," he said.

*Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News


Copyright © 2008 to The Dallas Morning News. All articles are republished on AEGiS with permission of The Dallas Morning News. You need permission from the Dallas Morning News to make more than one copy of any article in this section.

Information in this article was accurate in August 14, 2008. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.