After Losing His Mom and Sister to AIDS, Jake Glaser Overcomes 'Survivor's Guilt' to Help Others

Now 37, the son of HIV/AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser and Starsky and Hutch actor Paul Michael Glaser is looking forward to starting a family of his own — and hopes to achieve the first AIDS-free generation

Jake Glaser remembers coming home on Dec. 3, 1994 and finding his father, Starsky and Hutch actor Paul Michael Glaser, sitting alone. He immediately knew that his mother, HIV/AIDS activist Elizabeth Glaser, had died.

"I sat down next to him, and we both cried," Jake, now 37, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

The Glasers' battle with HIV/AIDS began when Elizabeth hemorrhaged while giving birth to daughter Ariel in August 1981, two months after the first cases of AIDS were reported in the U.S. She needed seven pints of blood, but only learned the emergency transfusion was the source of her infection after Ariel became sick and tested positive for HIV in 1986; she died two years later, at age 7. It was the middle of the AIDS crisis, but Elizabeth and Paul bravely came forward to tell their story in PEOPLE cover stories, with the goal of showing the world that it was possible for anyone to contract AIDS.

Born with HIV in 1984, before the first HIV treatment was available, Jake has spent his life defying the odds— and carrying on his mother's legacy through the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). She launched the organization in 1988 alongside friends Susan DeLaurentis and Susie Zeegen and with help from Jake's father to fund research and stop the spread of the deadly disease. Since then EGPAF has provided more than 32 million women with testing, counseling and treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and today it supports 1.8 million people with lifesaving medications.

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Jake Glaser. Toky

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"My mom would be absolutely blown away by how far we've taken this," says Jake, who, as a foundation ambassador, speaks to at-risk kids around the world, mentors HIV-positive youth in Africa and helps raise funds with the goal of creating the first AIDS-free generation.

"We have the opportunity to end this disease," he says.

But getting this optimistic perspective took years of work for Jake, who spent much of his youth trying to make sense of a life that seemed defined by loss.

"I had survivor's guilt," says Jake, who was 3 years old when his big sister died. "I resented my mom and sister for what I thought was abandonment. And I beat myself up thinking, 'Why couldn't I have saved them?' "

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Elizabeth Glaser's 1994 cover of PEOPLE.

A grief-stricken teenager, Jake turned his festering frustrations on himself and began secretly flushing his daily HIV medications down the toilet, but regular testing revealed that he'd remained healthy. Through this Russian roulette, doctors discovered Jake inherited a mutation of the CCR5 gene — which limits the HIV's ability to wreak havoc on the immune system — from his dad. Jake was able to stop his HIV treatments, but he continued lashing out.

"I was very much focused on running away from the world," says Jake, who was 16 when Paul sent him to a boarding school and an adolescent treatment center for just over a year.

"I finally understood how my actions had impacted the people around me, and a lot of that came from the tireless love that everybody in my life has always given me," he adds.

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Jake Glaser with his mom Elizabeth in 1992. courtesy Jake Glaser

The organization launched to save his life ended up revealing his purpose. After a call from the foundation's CEO, Jake visited the EGPAF headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"I was grateful to see how many individuals were inspired by what my mom started," says Jake, who started off answering phones in 2005 and now works with Paul, who serves as an honorary chairman on the board. "My mom and dad showed me that if you want to change the world, you've got to have some fun doing it. I get to carry that on with my dad now."

Jake's commitment to the cause deepened at 27, when doctors learned that his protection from the CCR5 gene had weakened.

"I thought I was invincible," says Jake, "but I was close to my HIV evolving into AIDS."

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Jake Glaser (with fellow activists in Tanzania in 2017). EGPAF

Medication has since turned that around. Today Jake is proud to show off the two "teeny" pills he takes each day to keep his HIV undetectable and prevent transmission to Kerry Corridan, his girlfriend of eight years with whom he lives in Venice Beach.

"I love her with all my heart," says Jake, who met Kerry — a 36-year-old digital marketer — while she was moving into the unit below Jake's in the duplex where they still live. "She stopped me in my tracks."

Soon Kerry brought a friend along to volunteer at the foundation's events, "hearing me speak, and peeking into my world of philanthropy and my life with HIV," explains Jake. "I said to myself, 'If she is supportive of this, perhaps she will be supportive of me.' The biggest fear is not being loved, having someone not want to be with you because of your status. I know it's been mine for a long time."

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Jake Glaser with girlfriend Kerry Corridan in 2018.

On any given day he's working on his plant-based food company, Cool Foods, or surfing the California waves, where he feels his mom's presence on the water. Someday, he hopes to share her love of the ocean with his own children.

"That would be the ultimate for my mom and dad, to [have] little Glasers running around," he says. "I grew up believing that would never be possible for me."

When Jake shares his transformation with youth, "the first thing I open with is, 'You can ask me anything you want. I got a healthy sex life,'" he says.

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“My parents gave me all the tools I needed to be my best,” says Jake (with Paul in 2016). Greg Doherty/Getty

For Jake, this candid dialogue is essential to stopping the cycle of shame that enables HIV/AIDS to spread.

"Know your status," he says. "No matter where you live in the world, if you get tested for HIV, if you're positive, if you go on your medication, we are going to do nothing but stand up and applaud you."

With HIV no longer a death sentence thanks to the groundwork laid by heroes like Elizabeth, "I wouldn't go back in the past and change a thing," says Jake. "Everything that happened to my family happened for a reason."

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