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Low T Cell Count and Late Treatment Chance of Recovery

Jan 2, 2015

First, I would like to thank you for your contributions to the wealth of knowledge on this web site. Through my research it's been hard to find reliable information that isn't the same as every other site. This site has already taught me so much and I'm very grateful for it.

My Dad is 55 years old now and was diagnosed with HIV over 15 years ago, he hid it from my brother and I for quite a while. He has not received treatment and recently was admitted into the hospital for severe pneumonia. They diagnosed him with AIDS and my Dad told me his T cell count was 20. I'm not sure what the viral load was. He doesn't have insurance and they are releasing him today with a substantial amount of meds to last him until he is able to see a health care provider on a regular basis. From my understanding, his T cell count would be low because of the infection his body just battled. My Dad thinks he's dying. He can barely eat because his taste is distorted and actually lost weight while being hospitalized for a week. I saw him drinking some of the Ensures and attempting to eat throughout the day when I was there.

When my Dad talks to the doctor he doesn't remember many of the details such as what medication he is taking and what it's for. He said he started the "cocktail," which I'm familiar with the term. He also said the treatment's success was based on his bone marrow. He recently told me his bone marrow wasn't good and his doctor was unsure of how the treatment would affect him. My Dad also said he destroyed his body waiting so long to be treated.

Is there still a chance he can recover with treatment? No one can give any time estimate of his life expectancy and I understand it's not easily defined by any means. But, I'm at a loss as to whether or not there's any chance of recovery...? I read on one of your answers the treatment could raise his t cell count by 100, but from what I have read, this is still dangerously low. Is there a possibility it will continue to raise? Or will it continue to decrease?

With his deteriorating condition (extreme fatigue, significant loss of breath, and very extreme weight loss... he has very little body fat now), is the treatment too late?

Please, any response will be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you again for the vast amount of time you have spent answering everyone's questions.

Response from Mr. Vergel

Your dad is lucky to have you looking for answers for him.

It seems to me that he needs a lot of support right now and that he may have had PCP pneumonia and now wasting.

I hope he does not live alone since it is not unusual for people in his situation to need support to be reminded of his meds and meals. He may be isolated without friends who can be there for him, so it is important that you ensure that he is adhering to his HIV and prophylaxis meds. It is also important to accompany him to the doctor if he allows it so that he can have another set of ears to remind him of what he needs to do. Being sick can be overwhelming since our coping mechanisms may be shattered.

One of my best HIV+ friends had pneumonia in the past. His CD4 cells were 7. After a few years of HIV meds they are 800. It is possible for people to fully recover.

Taste changes can occur in people with malnutrition. B vitamins and zinc supplements can help to improve smell and taste. As his viral load becomes undetectable, his weight will improve as long as he eats well and does not have excessive diarrhea.

Your dad can apply to get his meds and health care through one of the ADAP programs available through the US:

Where to get free HIV treatment and care in the US

I have summarized what I think are the most important steps to take when someone finds out they are HIV positive. I think this video can also help caregivers know what to do to best support their loved ones who may need extra help while they try to stick to a schedule:

Nelson's Top Suggestions for Newly Diagnosed

Last but not least, ensure that your dad is not depressed. If he needs antidepressants, please talk to his doctor about this. Depression is one of the main reasons people do not adhere to their medications. Also, have your dad get his testosterone blood levels checked. Treating low testosterone can improve mood, appetite, lean mass, and energy level.

I encourage you to give me an update on your dad periodically. Be very careful not to be too "pushy" and respect his boundaries. Sometimes people do not welcome our best intentions if they feel pressured.

Good luck and I hope your dad recovers soon.


Great inspiration.
What should we expect in 2015?

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