Breaking News
More () »

Des Moines man says HIV testing saved his life

Roger Lacoy of Des Moines says HIV testing saved his life. He remembers the phone call 30 years ago that stopped time.

DES MOINES, Iowa — June 27, 2023 is National HIV Testing Day: Click here to learn more

One in eight people in this country lives with HIV and doesn’t know it.

Iowa just passed a law removing HIV education requirements from school curriculum. Opponents of the legislation fear it could reverse the state’s progress in being a leader in HIV prevention.

Roger Lacoy of Des Moines says HIV testing saved his life. He remembers the phone call 30 years ago that stopped time.

“It was a cold day in September,” he recalled. “I was just out and about with my partner, I got a call.”

The doctor called to say, “I want to let you know that your test came back positive – you probably have two years to live.”

Lacoy's mind started racing.

“What am I going to do? It was the fear of God. The first thing you think is suicide.”

He says in the 1980s, little was known about HIV.

“There was no cure. Everybody was dying from it. It was like someone saying you have cancer. I almost died several times. I almost died from pneumonia.”

Lacoy repeated to himself: "You need to live and you need to be part of people's lives. You can’t just give up. I needed to fight and I needed to live.”

And live he did.

Focusing not on himself but on helping others by serving on boards to educate and support people after diagnosis. 

“If you don’t get tested and you don’t know, then the virus can go wild and you get sick. If you don’t get treatment, you could die from this because the virus is still in you and it can become AIDS.”

In 2021, Almost all of Iowa's 99 counties had at least one reported person living with HIV.

RELATED: Read the Iowa Department of Public Health's end-of-year 2021 HIV report

One in five new diagnoses is in people ages 13-24, but health leaders say everyone should test for HIV. The Project of Primary Health Care is a service and prevention center for people living with HIV/AIDS, working to give more people access to free testing. 

“We know that people are rarely tested for HIV,” Prevention Service Manager Sarah Wignall explained. “Some people go their whole lives without being tested. There’s older folks that don’t necessarily think they’re doing anything that needs an HIV test and we’re finding that they’re the ones that have been living with HIV.”

The testing process is easy: with one prick of the finger, you get the result in minutes.

Wignall and her staff educate people to ease the fear and stigma towards the virus.

“We have people that come in and say, ‘I need the AIDS test.’ Well then right there is a great start to say, ‘This is an HIV test and then just the history behind it and then also letting them know with brochures to pass on to loved ones," Wignall said.

Wignall says any sexual contact, no matter your sexuality, plus drug use can cause infection.  

“We want to reach people that are using so people that are using drugs, no judgment there, we just know that that’s an increased risk – and individuals that do sex work for a living. We want to get you tested to make sure you’re taken care of.”

The center also provides treatment when someone learns they have HIV.

“Within a few weeks of starting the meds, we’ve seen viral loads drop, people get undetected. We know once you’re undetected, you can’t pass the virus on," Wignall told Local 5.

It’s a place like this, that has changed Lacoy’s life.

“Getting tested is smart because if you are HIV-positive you can get medicine right away and stop it in its tracks," he said. "If I didn’t get tested, I would be dead by now.”

Lacoy recently turned 60 years old, a milestone he never imagined because he was told he wouldn’t live past 30.

And what does he say to those scared to get tested?

“Relax. Take a breath. Think about it. Reach out. There’s a big community that’s here to help.”

Walgreens is conducting free tests Tuesday, June 27 to help make testing accessible for everyone.  

Stop HIV Iowa has a goal to reduce the number of HIV diagnoses in Iowa by 75% by 2025 and 90% by 2030. That means going from approximately 100 in 2020 to fewer than 10 by 2030.

You can get tested for free through The Project of Primary Health Care any day.

WATCH: Des Moines doctor says chem shortage impacting local patients

Before You Leave, Check This Out