Jacquie TenHoopen was born the year her Uncle Tom first became ill with HIV/AIDS. She was in the first grade when he came to live with her family in Bellaire. Jacquie’s mother, CJ, was Tom’s sister and was his caregiver throughout his illness. “He was my best friend,” Jacquie said. “We spent all of our time together. We were almost inseparable.”
They enjoyed tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches after long days at the beach searching for Petoskey stones, garnets, and beach glass. “He loved the beach,” Jacquie said. “Even today, we’ll say, ‘Let’s go to Tom’s beach.’ He built the most amazing sand castles.”
Tom was famous for his flower gardens and ponds. He enjoyed collecting pine cones and tansy for art projects. He favored peanut butter cups, adored his two cats, Sammy and Cole, and loved Legos.
When Tom developed Kaposi’s Sarcoma, an aggressive cancer marked by purplish lesions, Jacquie painted purple spots on all of her dolls. Tom’s symptoms became severe as his illness progressed. His temperature once soared to 107 degrees and he spent three days on an ice bed before his fever broke. “It was really hard when he was sick,” Jacquie said. “Every time we took him to the hospital, we said goodbye.”
Just before Mother’s Day 1993, Tom slipped into a coma. Jacquie searched for the most perfect beach stone she could find, and slipped it into his hand. When she tried to take it back to put it on a shelf, he clenched his fist and wouldn’t let it go.
“Tom was an amazing person. He found joy in everything,” Jacquie said. “He was always a kind, caring, loving person. When he got sick, he wanted to do something more than kind – he wanted to make a stand.”
His decision to publicly promote HIV/AIDs education came with a price. “There were people who threatened to hurt him, to hurt us,” Jacquie said. “He continued with his work even knowing there were people who wanted him dead – even knowing people wanted to hurt us. It was a family decision. He talked to all of us about it. We came to a unanimous agreement as a family.”
“He said if he could keep one person from contracting AIDS, then it was worth it,” Jacquie added. “He really believed knowledge is power and he wanted to keep as many young people as possible from going through the stigma, isolation, and suffering he experienced. It was important to him. He had watched too many friends die, too many people get sick. He was a very religious man – very devout in his belief of a higher being. He wanted to help – he wanted to make a difference.”