|Comment on "The Dirty Truth on Lifespan"
Nov 27, 2005
Dr. Bob: I just read the letter from Jason in NY asking about what he had to look forward to regarding his future as an HIV positive individual, and I felt compelled to share my experience with you.
I became infected with HIV in 1984-85, about age 30, and had myself tested in '85 only because I wanted to know my status. At the time, I was told by the hospital that tested me that I probably had "a good 6-8 MONTHS to live", and that I should "make the most of the time I had left". This, despite the fact that I wasn't sick at the time. At first I was devastated, concerned what would happen to my partner, my pets, my home, and how my family and friends would react. That emotion lasted about two weeks. My emotions soon turned to anger; not at being infected, or who infected me, but with the hospital and medical community in general for telling me that I essentially had no chance of survival. Being one who never has taken lightly to being told by anyone that I couldn't do something, I set my mind on proving them wrong.
I had already lead a relatively healthy lifestyle to that point, but I decided to become more conscientious and educated about my health. I learned everything I could about HIV, as well as personal nutrition, exercise, and mental health's effects on the immune system. I made sure that I limited the negative factors as much as possible, while maintaining my quality of life. Note that I said "limited". I felt, and still do feel that giving up some of the enjoyable things in life that are often labeled as bad (i.e.: drinking alcohol, eating meat, eating refined sugar, & flour, etc.) might save you from some negative effects, only to be added to other negative effects, such as mental stress, feeling deprived, depression, etc. I lived by ideas instilled in me by my mom that I consider some of the most important things she taught me: Do nothing in excess. Eat a little of everything, but not too much of anything. Get plenty of exercise, fresh air, and rest. Do things that make you feel good and make you happy.
In 1994, my partner became ill, was diagnosed with AIDS, and was hospitalized. It was only then that I began regularly seeing an HIV specialist. I had avoided it until then because; first, I wasn't sick, and second, I live in a state where the "isolation of people with HIV" had been seriously considered by the legislature in the mid to late 80's. For isolation, read: concentration camps. I had been seriously afraid of having my status become public record.
My first tests in '94 showed viral loads of 30,000-40,000, with T-cells at 500-800. Discussing options with my doctor, I decided not to begin any treatment, only to monitor my blood work three times per year. In 2003, I had a spike in viral load to 750,000, and a corresponding drop in T-cells to 395. My doctor said that it could be a lab error, a onetime spike, or any number of things, so I opted to go 3 months and redo the tests. The next tests were better, but not back to where I had been for the previous 9 years. After a lot of consideration and discussions with my doctor, I decided to begin treatment with Sustiva, Epivir, and Viread. A major factor in deciding to undergo treatment was that the prescribed regimen was only three pills once a day at bedtime. Within three months, my viral load had dropped to under 1,000, within six months it was <20, considered undetectable. My T-cells were a bit slower to go back up, but today I am at back up to 500-800, with a VL that is still undetectable.
Since I made the decision to prove the doctors wrong in 1984, I have lived my life on the assumption that I will live a long, happy and productive life, and that in the end, old age will be the one and only thing to lessen my quality of life, and eventually end it; NOT HIV. I went back to school in 1996 and earned a second degree, began a second and now third career doing work I enjoy, and at age 50 (soon to be 51) I am in great health, physically and mentally, and am as strong as a horse. I mountain bike, hike, rock climb, swim, hunt, fish, etc, have hobbies that give me tremendous pleasure, and have a very active and satisfying sex life with my present partner of three years (who is 13 years my junior). I have a very hard time convincing others that I actually am 50; most take me for late 30's to early 40's at most.
I know that in many ways I may have been just plain lucky, but I don't believe luck is the only reason I have had HIV for 20 years and remained healthy. I will never willingly let HIV destroy and take my life as it has so many of my friends and loved ones. I'm here for the long run. I hope others can adopt the same attitude; after all, they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Response from Dr. Frascino
Twenty years and counting! BRAVO!
Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your encouraging and inspiring story. Any time you want to go for a bike ride, hike, rock climb or swim, give me a call. I don't hunt or fish (too much of an animal lover), but any of the other activities would be fine.
Stay well. (I'm quite confident you will!)
A Minor in a Dilemma in need of enlightenment!!
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