Helping people with AIDS from Iowa to Baltimore

By Jon Mason The mid 1990s was a confusing time surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Much of the general public was very fearful of AIDS, but was unaware of the real situation. The mid 1990s was also when Andrea Martin, Duluth native and resident, graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

A little while after graduation in 1995, Martin joined the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and was off to Baltimore. Her work was to be a volunteer caregiver with AIDS Interfaith Residential Services (AIRS) at a Don Miller Home for people with end-stage AIDS.

“It was an incredibly intense situation,” Martin said.

Her job was to perform base care needs in a shift rotation that went around the clock. “My job was to focus on people who were suffering and keep them as comfortable as possible,” Martin said.

She met a lot of people in her one year there. One of them was a mid 40-year-old man named Buddy. Buddy was previously a nurse and very intelligent, said Martin. “He was in a lot of pain, but he had his own morphine grip to help,” Martin said.  Despite the pain, Buddy was afraid to sleep, so Martin and Buddy would cook.

The problem was Buddy wasn’t able to eat the food they cooked. Buddy suffered from stomach cancer. He enjoyed the conversation and the smell of cooking, said Martin. He even shared the recipe to his Kentucky butter cake with her.

Not to worry though, the food didn’t go to waste. One of Buddy’s friends and old roommate, Casey, was also at the Don Miller House and loved to eat and tell stories. Casey was in his upper 40s, very tall, loved to sing, loved Donald Duck, and suffered from dementia.

“It was an odd thing to see him in such pain and such joy,” Martin said. Casey told her he was scared to die. “Being just out of college, it was hard to deal with the magnitude of someone being tired of being in pain,” Martin said.

Martin was sometimes bed side while the people she cared for passed away. She felt like she became part of the family during the very peaceful experience.

Jana Winch, housemate in Baltimore and college friend, said “[Martin] was dealing with some really heavy stuff.” It brought out a different side of her that was unexpected from their time together at college, said Winch.

Martin’s dad, Bruce Gildseth, said he supported her and thinks it was a good way for her to spend a year. “It was a highly emotional time for her, but it was good to see her live simply in a community and do a social service,” Gildseth said.

“It was a very intense time for her and hard for her to process it,” said Martin’s older sister Chris Erie. After the year Martin spent in Baltimore, “The neat thing was watching her trying to decide to go to seminary or culinary school,” Erie said. “The two are very similar, she loves to help people.”

After a few other adventures, Martin is back in the city she grew up in and living on West Skyline with her husband John, who she met at culinary school, and their two young children.

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