Whitehorse Daily Star

Relatives, friends mourned AIDS victims

Cassandra Paquette Hanifan, or Cassy, as her family called her, was only 21 when she died of AIDS on May 8, 2004.

By Whitehorse Star on December 6, 2006

Cassandra Paquette Hanifan, or Cassy, as her family called her, was only 21 when she died of AIDS on May 8, 2004.

Last Friday, her aunts, Cathy, Peggy and Glady, gathered at the Yukon Arts Centre for the World AIDS Day ceremony, where they told her story.

'It was very emotional,' Peggy said in an interview Monday afternoon.

Paquette Hanifan's story was one of six that were told by the families and friends of AIDS victims. For each of those victims, a quilt panel was also displayed as part of the larger international AIDS memorial quilt.

At one metre by two metres, each of the panels is for a victim of the illness. The Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, which organized the events for AIDS Awareness Week, brought 10 blocks of the 83-kilometre long memorial quilt to the territory last month.

The quilt is designed to remember the lives of those who have died from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses, like Paquette Hanifan, who was a victim of a tainted blood transfusion.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. girl was only a year old when she was a patient at the Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto due to a heart problem that led to the blood transfusion. With that, Paquette Hanifan was given blood tainted with HIV, Peggy said.

At the time, her parents were told she probably wouldn't live to her 16th birthday, but she became one of the last children who received tainted blood to survive.

'She tried to live a happy, full life,' Peggy said of her niece.

While most children dream of going to Disney World at age 11, Paquette Hanifan was granted her wish by the Children's Wish Foundation to visit her extended family in the Yukon.

'We have lots of pictures of that trip, lots of memories' Peggy said, recalling the Yukon family trying to make the trip as exciting as Disney World for young girl.

When Peggy and her sisters were asked to do a panel for the AIDS quilt, they were more than willing, knowing their niece would want that.

For a number of years, Peggy has organized the musical performances for the AIDS walk in Whitehorse.

While the format of AIDS Awareness Week changed this year, Peggy said, she wanted to continue her involvement.

She was quick to point out that there's so many stigmas, including that it is a disease only gay people get, attached to the illness that aren't true.

It's important that people do whatever they can to support finding a cure and making the public more aware.

'We need to get it out there,' she said.

The ceremony touched a lot of nerves for many families, Peggy said, noting that she would have liked to see more people at the ceremony.

For others though, the attendance was higher than expected.

Beckie Huston, the health promotions worker for Blood Ties Four Directions, said the organization had initially kept the invites for last Friday's event to family members of AIDS victims.

In the end though, she was pleased to see 60 people turn out for the ceremony, which concluded a week of events around the AIDS cause.

'It was very moving. I'm kind of at a loss for words,' she said.

As the emcee, she said, she forgot what she had planned to say during the ceremony after listening to the stories of all the families.

This year's AIDS Awareness Week included an AIDS benefit concert, the display of the quilt and the ceremony of remembrance.

It was done in an effort to bring more faces to the cause for people, Huston explained.

'I think we more than exceeded that,' she said of the goal.

In the Yukon, at the end of 2005, there were 45 cases of HIV, with a total of 58,000 across the country.

While Blood Ties hasn't finalized plans for next year's events, Huston said she'd like to continue with some of the initiatives underway this year.

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