Kassim has been HIV-positive for almost half his life. The disease has robbed him of his career, his partner, and much of his independence. But it won’t take his creative spirit.
Kassim left Trinidad when he was barely out of his teens, unable to remain in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. He ended up in Toronto, working nights as a taxi dispatcher while attending design school by day. Saving his money, he eventually opened his own east-end studio. Life was good, with a satisfying creative career that earned him a good living. He fell in love, happily settling into a decade-long relationship. A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS changed all that.
When you’re so sick and alone, you can feel unworthy of living,” says Kassim. “But at Casey House, they help you to live again.
Kassim, Casey House Client
“My boyfriend got tested and he was sick too,” recalls Kassim. “He blamed me, I blamed him. We just fell apart.” The relationship ended. The two men sought treatment separately, Kassim becoming a patient of pioneering HIV physician Dr. Anita Rachlis. But as he struggled with medication after medication, he grew increasingly frustrated with the terrible side effects. Too sick to work, lonely and depressed, he stopped taking the pills. The virus wasted no time, attacking his brain.
“I was so sick,” recalls Kassim. “Dr. Rachlis said I should go to Casey House, that I needed more care than she could give me. But I was terrified. I thought I would die there, for sure. ‘No, no,’ Dr Rachlis said. ‘Kassim, I promise you, they’ll take good care of you.’ And she was right, they did.” With his short-term memory compromised, the team at Casey House taught Kassim strategies to remember to take his pills. They helped to secure supportive housing, since he could no longer live alone. In the years since, he has twice been admitted to Casey House to manage disease exacerbations.
Today, Kassim is grateful that he is not alone, knowing that his care team at Casey House will support him through the tough times, no matter how bad. He has rediscovered his creativity, as a painter. Beside his bed sits a small acrylic canvas depicting his small childhood home ablaze with Trinidadian sunshine and blooms. “When you’re so sick and alone, you can feel unworthy of living,” says Kassim. “But at Casey House, they help you to live again.”