At age 14, Efrain Rivera was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He gave up on life—until Broadway House gave him new hope for the future. Twenty-eight years later, he’s healthy, happily married, and grateful for the love and care he received here. Efrain says, “Broadway House is God’s place of angels. They never give up on anyone.”
An immigrant from Puerto Rico, Efrain went into a tailspin when his doctor delivered the grim news that he had HIV/AIDS. It was less than a decade after the AIDS epidemic first made international headlines, and the high school freshman was scared. “My world fell to the ground,” Efrain recalls. While family and friends tried to offer support, the youngster dropped out of school and swapped the medication prescribed by his doctor for street drugs and alcohol. He adds, “I wanted to enjoy my life if I was going to die anyway.”
The Belleville resident soon found himself living on the streets of Newark, alone, sick, and battling multiple addictions. With his health deteriorating rapidly, Efrain suffered a seizure and was referred by a doctor to Broadway House for Continuing Care in 1996. Fighting for his life, Efrain soon realized that people at Broadway House believed in him. Since he was the youngest resident by far, Efrain’s care team nicknamed him Baby Boy. Over the next two years, he received expert medical care to get his HIV/AIDS and other related medical conditions under control, fought his addictions, and gained the confidence to take charge of his medication management.
“Never stop doing what you’re doing. Broadway House is God’s place of angels, starting with the nurses, CNAs, and case workers, and every other employee who works for this facility.”
It took a village of Broadway House employees to help Efrain turn his life around. In particular, he credits Dominick Varsalone, a former Broadway House Nurse and author of the 2017 book My Journey as an AIDS Nurse, and Social Services Director Gloria Horton, BA, CSW, CDP, CDVC. Of Varsalone, Efrain says, “He helped me to make the transition from a patient to a human being. He never stopped being a nurse to me, even after I left Broadway House.” When it came time for discharge, Horton helped Efrain to find an apartment in Elizabeth. “She is another angel,” Efrain adds. “Gloria knew I couldn’t go back to Newark, where I knew everyone on the streets. I would have ended up dead.”
Today, Efrain’s life is an inspiration to current Broadway House residents. With lots of love and support from his extended family, Efrain has built a new, healthy life. He and his husband, Robert Owens, were married in the church where Efrain attended a support group run by Varsalone after his discharge. The couple recently visited Broadway House to reconnect with Horton and other staff members and offer encouragement to current residents.
Robert says, “Sometimes, you just need to leave one environment behind and go to another to improve your life.” Efrain, who continues to receive care for HIV/AIDS, has this message for Broadway House donors: “Never stop doing what you’re doing. Broadway House is God’s place of angels, starting with the nurses, CNAs, and case workers, and every other employee who works for this facility.”