Remembering Orlando Chavez

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A Legendary Hepatitis Activist

by Scott Carroll

We are sad to share that our long-time BFC volunteer, Clinic Steering Committee member and Board Member, Orlando Chavez, passed away on June 3rd, 2018.  He was 66.  Orlando was a committed and caring man who, after struggles in his youth and early adulthood, dedicated the last portion of his life to helping people in the community, especially those living with and effected by hepatitis C.  He literally and figuratively wore a variety of hats around the clinic, often running nighttime outreach shifts at the needle exchange sites in a black cowboy hat and trench coat. Orlando suffered a stroke at home and was unconscious in Kaiser Hospital Oakland for the final week of his life. Dozens of friends from the causes he was involved with came to his hospital room to keep him and each other company around the clock until he passed.  

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Born on July 5th, 1951, Orlando grew up on 22nd Street in Downtown Oakland, in the neighborhood behind the Paramount Theater.  His family was Seventh Day Adventist, and the kids were prohibited from vice – including even going to the movies. Orlando and his brother strayed from that early instruction – with his brother having a career installing theater sound systems around the Bay Area, and Orlando becoming deeply involved in using and selling street drugs. His brother recalls Orlando’s youth as difficult.  Joking at a memorial service in Oakland he recounted, “no matter where we moved we always thought he just ran with the wrong crowd, then we realized he was the wrong crowd.”

In adulthood Orlando turned his life around in a big way.  He became clean and sober and began fighting for the rights of others.  His liver had been hit hard by the hepatitis C virus and he made battling the spread of the virus in our community his central cause.  In Oakland he facilitated the patient support group at Dr. Diana Sylvestre Oasis Clinic for people living with Hep C. He joined the BFC and quickly became a core member of the Hepatitis Testing, Education and Vaccination section (HepTEV), driving the BFC’s mobile clinic to Hep C hot spots around the East Bay and counseling and testing clients in the field and at the BFC. 

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“No one connected the dots between the East Bay’s hepatitis hotspots better or more sensibly than Orlando,” says Julia Klems of Berkeley’s clean syringe distribution program, Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution (NEED). Julia worked closely with Orlando in both the East Bay and their later work in hepatitis linkage to care in San Francisco. “Orlando never lost his drive to see the next hep C client through their treatment process all the way to ‘SVR 12’ – the long-awaited laboratory indication that one is cured.”

In addition to his hepatitis prevention and treatment activities Orlando worked for several years as staff on the BFC’s federally funded (SAMHA) collaboration with UC Berkeley, “Berkeley Builds Capacity,” training and working along side student outreach workers and driving the mobile clinic to community college and universities for HIV prevention outreach and testing.  

Orlando was known to say about his transition from drug selling days to life-saving health work, “I’m back on the same streets, only this time I’ve got something a lot better to offer.”

Orlando's presence, humor, energy, and enthusiasm are deeply missed.