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Health News

Farewell to a hero of the fight against HIV

Just 17 when he found out he had the virus, Clint Walters spent the rest of his life fighting it

"I guess you could say I live life to the full – I'll do anything [rather] than have the words HIV on my tombstone," wrote Clint Walters recently.

Mr Walters, who was just 17 when he was diagnosed with HIV, dedicated his life to combating ignorance and supporting others who were struggling with the illness. In one year alone he ran the London Marathon, abseiled off South Africa's Table Top Mountain, swam with sharks, skydived, and cycled from London to Paris to raise money for charity.

But on Sunday, aged 31, he died at home in Clapham, south London. Yesterday tributes poured in to an "amazing inspiration" and a "walking talking hero, who was so humble".

"Clint just had the most incredible energy," said his friend Neil Parrett. "He was a force of a personality, impossible to resist. He was always laughing, always made you feel special. I just can't believe I am never going to hear him laugh again. He was a real inspiration, probably the nicest guy I have ever known."

Growing up in a small town near Oxford, Mr Walters barely knew about HIV and had had only two relationships when his mother took him to the doctor with breathing and chest problems. The diagnosis was devastating.

"You can't describe the pain of the diagnosis. My mum didn't even know I was gay," he said four years later.

He initially "lost all hope" but began treatment and started to regain his fitness. He was discharged from hospital in time to sit his A-levels and later travelled to San Francisco to work and study at a University of California Aids Health project. "My whole world opened up for the first time," he wrote. "I came to terms with my diagnosis and worked at several amazing agencies, learning as much as I could. I decided to head back to the UK to provide the support I never had."

Despite admitting it was difficult, even as an adult, to broach the subject of his HIV-positive status with strangers, he opted to "shout it from the rooftops" to break down the taboo, convinced that ignorance fuelled increasing infection.

In 1999, he founded Health Initiatives for Youth UK to provide peer support to young people living with HIV/Aids and started touring the country to take the message to colleges and schools, hoping his frank talks would teach teenagers to learn from his mistake. He said: "My aim has been to give the children something I never had – a young outspoken face of HIV to which they can relate."

"Rather than let it beat him, he focused on life and tried to make it better for other people in the same situation," added Mr Parrett. "He took calls from young people all over the country and people came to stay with him if they were struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis. He was completely selfless."

For years he battled in vain to get funding to set up a weekend clinic and support centre in London.

Yesterday one of his close friends, Mark Fell, said they would continue the fundraising so "his legacy can live on", adding: "He was the most amazingly inspirational person. He virtually lived on the breadline and completely dedicated his life to charity."

Mr Walters was doing well on medication and doctors were pleased about his fitness levels. He died after suffering a heart attack on Sunday. Right up to the very end, his social networking website read: "Mood: Optimistic".