Tom Graziano (TG) and Paul Nilsen (PN)
TG: John was one of the first children in the state of Illinois to be diagnosed as HIV positive. We went to our pediatrician and, uh, the doctor said he did not want to be John’s doctor. It was an indication of what might be ahead of us, of how John would be treated and how we as a family would be treated.
PN: You came, you came right after Christmas vacation I remember, and you told me about John. I said, “John stays in the school.” There was no question in my mind that that’s where he should be.
TG: I really didn’t know, Paul, I didn’t know how you would handle this. When you made that statement, that John belongs here, it was a big sigh of relief for me.
PN: The more I got to know John, the more I loved him. At first I remember we became very cautious. I used to spray alcohol on his desk and clean it up. But then, one day I said, ‘This is ridiculous. We’re gonna treat him no different than we’d treat any other child in the room.’
TG: Do you remember how the children reacted?
PN: They were very protective, if anybody would say to one of the kids in the room, ‘Who has AIDS?’ Every child would say, ‘I have AIDS.’
I remember one time, one of the parents came to me and said, ‘Just tell me who it is. And I said to him, ‘I cannot do that.’ He says, ‘Just tell me who it is. I won’t tell anybody.’ And I said, ‘No, you’re not gonna get it from me.’
TG: I wanna thank you. John loved school and it made those last few years of John’s life as good as they could be. He died on May 13th, and, uh, the day of the funeral was his birthday.
PN: We sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
TG: Yeah. In his final months, he was suffering, and that was painful for us. But, if you had not acted compassionately, it would have been so much more difficult.
PN: I believe that everybody has choices, and there’s something that just leads people to what they need to do.