The City of Allen incurred a tremendous loss on Tuesday, Oct. 27 when activist Wesley Crews died of traumatic brain complications stemming from a car accident last year.

Crews was 43-years-old, and while he left this world too soon, doctors at one point expected him to die at 15. 

“His life was a wild ride and we just hung [onto] his coattails,” said Crews’ mother, Cassie, in a written statement. “He finished what he came here for and is on to his next assignment.”

Crews spent his entire life battling severe hemophilia, but his brush with medical complications did not end there. When he was 3 years old, he was given a transfusion of blood tainted with HIV, and it went undetected for nearly seven years. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. 

Today, treatments are available that ensure that people with HIV can live healthy lives and can reduce a person’s viral load until they become “undetectable,” and unable to transmit HIV to anyone else. It is still an incredibly difficult diagnosis to live with.

The 1980s, of course, was a notoriously cruel era for people living with AIDS, largely due to caustic stigmas against intravenous drug users and the LGBTQ+ community. Even pediatric patients with no history of drug use or sexual activity were treated like lepers, as made painfully clear by the cases of HIV-positive children and teenagers such as Ryan White and the Ray brothers. 

“We were told not to tell anybody in the community that he had HIV,” Cassie recalls. 

The HIV virus was also incredibly misunderstood by the medical community. The Food and Drug Administration was commonly accused of stalling the medication approval process and responding to the crisis without a sense of urgency, and any patient lucky enough to receive medical treatment was often subjected to faulty clinical trials.

Crews was one of these patients at a young age, and when he underwent medical treatment in Bethesda, Maryland, he and his family met the now-famous Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

“[Crews] was a guinea pig for 14 years,” Cassie says.

Crews was 14-years-old when he finally decided he could no longer keep his diagnosis a secret. In 1991 on Easter Sunday, he boldly declared, “Look mom, I’m tired of lying to my friends and everybody. It’s like I did something wrong, and I didn’t … If you don’t let me tell, I’m going to tell anyway.”

So they did. Local journalist Peggy Hemlick-Richardson gave Crews a glowing profile in an issue of the Allen American, and Cassie coordinated with the Allen ISD school board to make sure that they continued to accommodate her son as a student. They welcomed him in open arms, and most of his classmates embraced him. 

“It wasn’t perfect,” Cassie remembers. “There were people that were afraid to come over after that.”

As Crews’ story began to circulate, representatives at Disney contacted him via the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and spent two days filming him. After compiling this footage, they sent Crews to Disney World and made him an honorary member of the Mickey Mouse Club. 

In the years since, Crews managed to live a far longer and healthier life than anticipated as he kept his AIDS diagnosis and hemophilia under control. His activism extended to the causes of mental health awareness and animal welfare. To further the former goal, he started a support group called the Anger & Depression Management of Allen, which started via Twitter and immediately saw an enrollment of 63 people. 

“He went through anger and depression over the lot he was given, but he found his peace about it,” Cassie says. “He said, ‘You know mama, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I feel like I’m helping people.’”

Garrett Gravley

Garrett Gravley is a Dallas-based writer, journalist and music critic. His work has appeared in the Dallas Observer, D Magazine, and Central Track.