Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 49 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 49 borne disease contracted mostly through needle sharing, had been climbing. Combs contacted other counties about the spike. "We were all seeing it," she recalls. Other states, including Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, had seen hepatitis C cases triple from 2006 to 2012. It seemed more trend than red fag. (Eighty-six percent of HIV positive individuals in the Southern Indiana outbreak are co-infected with hep- atitis C.) At frst, people didn't trust Combs. Tought for sure she was in with the cops. With that government-issued white SUV? Really, they didn't trust any of the new faces fltering in from out of town. "We were joking when all this stuf was happen- ing, they was gonna just put a big bubble around Austin and nobody's gonna get out and nobody's gonna get in," one local woman told me. Combs has found helpers on the street. Jerry Pennington, an outgoing, avuncular 56-year-old, has recruited friends into the needle exchange. After testing positive for HIV, he now persuades those who are re- luctant or anxious that it's best to fnd out. Pennington is red-faced with a gray beard, spongy nose and legs as thin as saplings. Combs knew she could rely on Pennington when he collected and turned in the "Chi- cago" needles. Early in the outbreak, an agency from Chicago passed out hundreds of clean needles. Since that was before the state-sanctioned exchange, those needles weren't legal. Pennington moved to Austin in the '70s from Eastern Kentucky, which was about the same time he started shooting up co- caine. He's lost three wives. "Every time I marry one, they die," he says. Work came and went in factories until this past fall when his failing lungs sidelined him. On bad days, his breaths amount to feeble, his- sy gasps. He now lives in a gray trailer with no electricity and the words "I love you" in black ink on the front rail. One afternoon, Combs thought she spotted two of Pennington's buddies inject- ing beneath his shade tree. She parked her SUV, and they scattered. As she gathered some clean needles for Pennington, he ran inside his trailer. "I have something for you for being such a nice lady," he said, hand- ing her a stufed Winnie-the-Pooh riding a green elephant. Te toy sits in Combs' trunk, a constant companion on the needle exchange. C ombs continues her drive through Austin's north side, a neighborhood known for drugs and poverty. A near-perfect grid of about a dozen blocks Top: Austin police chief Donald Spicer rides around his hometown. Bottom: Scott County public- health nurse Brittany Combs delivers food to participants in the mobile needle exchange.

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