We're just a bunch of writers who have no idea what it's like to have the AIDS virus,'' says Life Goes On executive producer Michael Braverman. So for a forceful real-life perspective, the writers turn to consultant Rod Garcia, 27, who has been HIV-positive for at least nine years and developed AIDS three years ago. ''Rod is more than just the guy who teaches us and gives us primary research,'' says Braverman. ''He is more like our inspiration. You could say he is our Gipper.''
Over the past 18 months, Garcia has described for the show's staff the psychological ravages and excruciating pain he has suffered as a result of AIDS. Three years ago he nearly lost his sight, endured two spinal taps, and was often, he says, ''wracked with chronic body aches so intense I didn't even feel the morphine kick in. I didn't know why I wasn't dead. It was scary. I was told, 'You have maybe six months or maybe just a few weeks to live.'''
Preferring to ''suffer and pass on at home,'' Garcia says that he decided, much against his doctors' advice, to leave the hospital, stop taking prescription medication, and switch to a macrobiotic diet. ''The doctors were irate,'' he recalls.
But something worked, and Garcia is now symptom-free. Applying a similar outcome to Life Goes On, however, is not playing well with the network, which says that such an ending would offer false hope.
In addition to his consulting job with Life Goes On, Garcia lectures to students about AIDS issues and takes cosmetology-design classes at an L.A. community college. Ultimately, he says, ''I want to be known for my design work, not for being HIV-positive. But a lot of people still need to be educated.''
These days, when he visits the Life set, Garcia is forced to relive a lot of traumatic moments. ''Sometimes it's too much,'' he admits. ''I'll look at Chad and I'll be crying, then he starts crying. I leave the studios some days and I'm a mess. It's a process I know I have to go through. But very often, the tears are also tears of joy. I know I have so much to be thankful for.''