Promise Made—Promise Kept
Memorial Fund Keeps Memory Alive Through Help for HIV/AIDS Patients
There is a moment in her life that Lisa Todd O’Neill remembers all too well. It was July of 1997, three months before her brother, Kevin Todd, died from complications of AIDS.
“We were driving to one of his doctor’s appointments. Kev was always upbeat—even on his worst days, he was still happy and trying to keep everybody else upbeat. But this was a bad day. He had lost a lot of weight. He was very, very sick. And I looked at him and I saw him staring out the window. Then he turned to me with a tear coming down his cheek, and said ‘I’m afraid you guys are going to forget me.’”
O’Neill has told that story hundreds of times, but it never gets easier. She made her brother a promise that day: that he would never be forgotten—that she would keep his memory alive, and that she would find a way to do it through compassionate works. She, her family, and a host of volunteers, have kept that promise.
The fund grew out of a program started by the Todd /O’Neill families shortly after his death. The Spirit of the Holidays initiative provided help to HIV/AIDS-impacted families in need during the holiday season. It began with helping one family by delivering gifts and food, and quickly grew into assisting 95 families by 2017. But keeping up with the demand was taking its toll.
“By 2017 we were pretty exhausted,” O’Neill says, noting that the family, board members, and volunteers were shopping for, and wrapping, more than 1,200 gifts a year. “So I made a very, very difficult decision to end it.”
She felt awful because she was breaking the promise she made to her brother. But she soon discovered that her action would lead to an even better way to help those in need—and to keep Kevin Todd’s memory alive.
The family decided to take the $9,400 that was left in the Spirit of the Holidays account and donate it to Garden State Infectious Diseases where Todd had been treated.
When O’Neill called the facility to speak with her brother’s doctor, David Condoluci, DO, he informed her that Garden State Infectious Diseases had been disbanded. However, as a longtime physician at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, he could connect her with donor relations at the hospital to set up a fund named for Todd. She needed an inaugural $10,000 donation to set up a foundation memorial fund, so the Spirit of the Holidays board all chipped in enough to bring the account up by $600 to make the limit. And so in 2019, the Kevin Todd Memorial Fund was launched.
Since that time, the fund has provided year-round aid to patients in South Jersey living with HIV/AIDS in the form of financial assistance with rent and utilities, transportation to and from medical appointments, medication, and healthcare bills—“pretty much any area of need,” says O’Neill.
Kevin Todd was an athlete, a professional ballet dancer, an actor, and a model. His sister describes him as “the guy that would walk into a room, and everyone would light up with a smile.” He was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s—a time when the diagnosis was a death sentence.
“Back then when you heard that someone had HIV it wasn’t: ‘Are you going to die?’ It was, ‘When are you going to die?’” O’Neill says. Because he had access to excellent healthcare and a supportive family, Todd lived seven years past his diagnosis; he was 40 years old when he passed away.
Today, HIV/AIDS is almost a forgotten disease, says Maryann Andrews, RN, clinical care director and infectious disease nurse at Jefferson Health – New Jersey in Voorhees. Andrews, who is administrator of the Kevin Todd Memorial Fund, was his infusion nurse during his treatment. She has been caring for patients with HIV/AIDS since the disease first emerged.
“HIV/AIDS hasn’t disappeared over the years. People are living longer with it, but they’re still suffering and they’re still struggling. People with HIV/AIDS are the forgotten ones right now,” Andrews says, adding that HIV/AIDS has been around for so long that any new emerging disease pushes it out of the news.
With federal grants for HIV/AIDS few and far between, other resources must be found. And that is where the Kevin Todd Memorial Fund comes in.
She recounts the story of a woman in need of outpatient treatment for depression whose insurance didn’t cover the full cost, so the fund paid for it, and she recalls several families that avoided homelessness because of the aid provided by the fund.
Anyone that we can provide resources for—I get to tell them the story of Kevin Todd. I get to have the Kevin Todd name live on.
“Anyone that we can provide resources for—I get to tell them the story of Kevin Todd. I get to have the Kevin Todd name live on,” she says.
Jesse O’Neill DeLuca, Todd’s niece, says she knows her uncle would be happy knowing that a fund named for him is helping those who are suffering as he did, and that the promise made so long ago was being kept.
DeLuca was only 8 years old when her uncle died, but they were very close. She says it’s not just important to fulfill the promise of not allowing her uncle to be forgotten—but to build on that promise.
“Honestly, how could my uncle be forgotten?” says DeLuca, stopping to hold back tears. “He was such a light in our lives. This disease hasn’t gone away, there are people still suffering—and it’s important to make sure that they aren’t forgotten, either.”