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‘Magic’ Johnson has message of hope for AIDS patients during Tampa visit

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Published:   |   Updated: September 17, 2013 at 06:31 PM

TAMPA — Twenty-two years after legendary NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced he had contracted HIV and retired from playing professional basketball he looks like the picture of health.

Johnson flashed his trademark smile Tuesday as he stood in front of an adoring audience of more than 400 people at the University Area Community Recreation Center to talk about his life now as a successful businessman, husband and doting grandfather.

He said he feels more fit now than he did before he tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

“Magic is on no magical drugs,” Johnson, 54, said, sparking laughter from the crowd.

He attributed his health to following his doctor’s orders to take his medication properly, maintain a positive attitude and exercise.

Johnson was the keynote speaker at an event launching Clear Health Alliance, the first and only Medicaid plan with designated speciality care for HIV and AIDS in the Tampa Bay and Central Florida region.

The service is being offered by Simply Healthcare Plans in partnership with the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. It will provide coordinated, quality care to people living with HIV or AIDS in the area, said Marianne Finizio, executive vice president of Simply Healthcare Plans.

Johnson, who is an investor in Simply Healthcare, said he has seen the number of people tested for HIV and AIDS drop over the years but the infection rate rise among the minority population.

“I have been able to speak at 300 churches in the black community to get those pastors on board,” Johnson said. “You are starting to see a change. Twenty-two years ago pastors wouldn’t touch it but you are beginning to see a change.”

Johnson’s latest focus on providing access to quality care for people who live with HIV or AIDS in southern states, including Florida.

 

Johnson, who now takes three drugs once a day, expects doctors and medical researchers to make tremendous strides in HIV/AIDS research in the next five years.

Asked if he looks forward to a cure for the virus, Johnson said he doesn’t think about that.

“Until it comes and it is real, I don’t want to give anybody false hope,” Johnson said.

But he plans to continue his commitment to educating as many people as possible.

“I am a man who is living with it, so I can talk to the people,” Johnson said.

kknight@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7413

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