“I’ve been HIV positive more than half my life,” says Jim Chud, who describes himself as a long-term HIV survivor living with the legacy of the side effects of an experimental treatment he took in 1987. “Over the past 30 years, the virus has done some major damage to me. Living here at Sierra Bonita allows me to concentrate my energies on my survival and my quality of life.”
An expert in artificial intelligence, an architect and possessor of
a master’s in psychotherapy, Jim also represents consumers on
the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV.
He was healthy at the time he volunteered for a clinical trial of
a drug that proved to be extremely toxic, and was viewed as
poison by his immune system. The drug pooled in his cartilage,
which fell under attack. All of his joints, including
his jaw, were frozen solid, leaving him paralyzed for a time. Unfortunately, even after enough of the drug had cleared from his system for him to move around and carry on, his immune system continued gnawing away at his cartilage and does so even to this day. As a result, the former athlete has had over 30 surgeries due to cartilage degeneration in his joints and spine. Jim’s vertebrae have now been fused from the top of his neck to the bottom of his tailbone. Managing the resulting pain is a daily challenge to his effectiveness and to his sobriety.
Shortly after starting a new position as a senior technical manager at a large British software company in 1999, Jim was diagnosed with a fungal infection of his sinus and brain that is fatal for almost everyone who contracts it. Eight surgeries and many courses of highly toxic medication were necessary to fight the fungus and repair its damage to his braincase and sinuses. Jim found himself in a state of ongoing disability, often homeless and poor.
Like a growing number of aging, long-term survivors of HIV infection, symptoms, including fatigue and vulnerability to communicable diseases, neuropathy and debilitating depression, add additional stress to Jim’s health.
In 2005, Jim stayed at Cedars- Sinai Hospital for five months because there was no place available to provide the supportive care he needed. Several skilled nursing facilities refused to admit him due to his HIV status. Others were simply unfit to provide the care he needed.
During that hospital stay in his plentiful free time, he applied for federal housing assistance, which he was later awarded. Since he was not terminally ill, hospice was not an option. Despite a 72-day stay at Tarzana Treatment Center to detox off of his pain medicines, he was unable to manage his pain without his medication. His case manager at Tarzana finally found an apartment in a Quaker-operated facility for HIV positive persons, where he was allowed to use pain medications in the context of recovery.
Jim was appointed to the HIV Commission as a consumer representative, and began to look for a more permanent residence. He had been watching the building on the corner of Sierra Bonita and Santa Monica since it was a mere hole in the ground, praying that he would be lucky enough to live there when it opened, as living in the heat and dust of the San Fernando Valley was wearing on his health. In 2009, he returned from an HIV conference in San Francisco to find that he was number 105 in the lottery for the 41 units in the new Sierra Bonita Apartments. He was delighted to be among the building’s first residents. “This is as good as it gets,” he says, describing the convenience of living close to public transit, the luxury of the solar-heated shower, and the city view from his living room.
With his dog Hummus asleep in his lap, Jim talks about his life at Sierra Bonita. When his health permits, he can walk Hummus in nearby Plummer Park, where he has met other local dog lovers who have become Jim’s friends. When he is ill and unable to leave the building, they stop by to care for Jim and Hummus, sometimes sitting with Jim at the tables on the public patio spaces of the Sierra Bonita apartments. When he feels well enough, he helps others learn to navigate the wide range of social services available to West Hollywood residents, including the Dial-A-Ride program, housing opportunities, and HIV-related services.
“The gift of being broke made me more empathetic and aware of the ways that we can help each other,” he says. The on-site services coordinator, says Jim, is an important asset for building residents.
Jim’s architectural background influences his awareness of the innovative design that characterizes Sierra Bonita, with bedrooms on the courtyard so that residents can appreciate the views when they are house-bound and large bathrooms that accommodate people living with a variety of disabilities. “Of course there are things I would change,” he says with a grin, “but I don’t know a building I would rather live in.”