Most people believe that I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I disagree. Everyday I wake up I feel lucky; lucky to have such amazing parents and lucky that I, alone, was able to survive.
Without further introduction, my father, Terry Stogdell, was (and is) an extraordinary man. Filled with life and love and his best quality was that he never understood boundaries. At 20 years old, I was born. My mother, 18. And while this seemed young to most I cannot help but be thankful; they were childhood sweethearts and six months after I was born my father tested positive for HIV and blood samples taken earlier date my his infection back to 1979 and thank G-d, I was born in 1985 to parents that had loved each other a while.
[To this day I am HIV negative as as well as my mother.]
A young parent? Yes, but any later would have been an obvious non-happening. I was born on this planet HIV negative in 1985 just as my father learned of a disease that would take his life a decade or so later. Its sounds complex but transmission scenarios can be explained later. Science was barely on all our sides, this time. When people ask me, “So how did you do it” they make it sound like a bad thing growing up with a terminally ill father.
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From my perspective I had a young and vibrant father that taught me that following the rules was okay, but creating them even better. His favorite quote was that when first testing positive for HIV he wanted to “kill every faggot he saw” but in the end, “dad” served on more boards related to gay rights and public health than any person could imagine even befriending liberal politicians and helping created new laws around such. I spent my childhood playing under conference room tables, whether it was the biotech he worked for or various HIV community groups like ACT UP Golden Gate or serving myself as an Advisor for the National Institute of Health (NIH) before I was a teen. Why would I not do that or what made my father so special? He didn’t go down without a fight.
But I’m not focused on my father especially, even though his energy carries on with me daily. Its about timing: the right place, the right time. I was born in the Bay Area in 1985. Because of my fathers’ combined condition of Hemophilia and HIV were were attracted to the Bay Area. He later became a partner of a leading biotech company that was acquired. I found myself naturally attracted to tech and software. So what is the story here?
And, I’m on a mission.
When most people were worried about being “cool” and fitting in, I already knew that I didn’t and in this sense actually a relief. Once you have the freedom of not being cool you can focus on what you want. For me, that has always been public health.
So, how do we make sure epidemics don’t happen again?
Is it possible to ensure the most people possible have access to health resources?
How do we make it so that public health is something protected not reacted to?
MY MISSION: I hope to change public health forever.
I know this is a powerful statement, but I think its one I can conquer: unfortunately there’s still plenty of work to do.
As a little girl I had two dreams in life: to be an epidemiologist or a tennis star. After a summer of tennis camp I showed promise but was persuaded, “What would your mark on this world be? Maybe you become famous, but could you change anything?” Dad would say. I had to work hard to pay for Tennis Camp (and Yearbook camp, and basketball camp... the list continues...)
“What difference in the world does it make if you become famous for Tennis?”
Dad would ask, as a teenager I thought how annoying, why do I have to change the world?
Now I know why-- the world needs changing.
I have a few select goals now and some professional expertise and really smart people around me. I have now served on several boards related to public health; NIH, FDA, Hemophiliac foundations and a few others. I spent time in my teens speaking at universities about public health and remember being President of the “Health Outreach for Teens aka “HOT” at my high school for distributing condoms and safe sex materials well before I had even had my first experience with sex. I remember thinking, my father didn’t have a choice about getting HIV, why not help those who did?
So what do I want after all of this? I want health.
We’re all ready and we all could use better health. Why not spend my twenties dedicated to changing public health forever?
I already spent my childhood dispensing HIV meds to a young father that only wanted to change the world himself,
“Have patience Desi...” he would always say. But as he knew best, patience was never my strong suit.