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Miracle or Medical Anomaly?

Spirituality Column #4

I received some extraordinarily good news for the New Year. My physician, Alexandra Levine, M.D., took my blood for the new HIV RNA test. To put my results into context, a person with "full-blown" AIDS shows millions of copies per cc of blood. A person who is HIV-positive and experiencing symptoms registers hundreds of thousands of copies per cc. A longterm non-progressor, (someone who is HIV-positive but has never shown any symptoms,) shows 50,000 - 70,000 copies per cc. My test results show 1,200 per cc, which means I have an extraordinarily light viral load, and there is very little, if any, viral activity.

To further set the context, if you haven't read my other columns, I was very sick with AIDS/Kaposi's Sarcoma, lymphoma, and many other infections over a decade ago. The KS and lymphoma have been in remission for over a decade. What was a lethal virus in my body has somehow become dormant, inactive, something I can apparently live with for a long time. Just this week, I have signed up for a pension plan, because I now believe that it's likely that I'm going to live a normal life span. This, in a person diagnosed as terminal with AIDS in 1984, at the age of 31.

As a person of faith, I see this as a real miracle, and a sign of hope for others. If someone could survive AIDS in the days before combination antiviral treatments and prophylactic drugs, then certainly it is a much greater possibility, and indeed a reality for many more people, today.

I've noticed lately, however, that what I see as a miracle is, in more "scientific" circles, often referred to, and sometimes dismissed as, a "medical anomaly". My Webster's Dictionary defines anomaly as "Departure from the common rule: something abnormal; irregularity." OK, I can see how my story fits that definition.

The same dictionary defines miracle as "A wonder; a marvelous thing; something which seems to go beyond the known laws of nature and is held to be the act of a supernatural being; a supernatural event." Since I believe God has a great deal to do with my survival, I call it a miracle.

I believe that God has much to do with my survival because, although I worked very hard at getting well, I know many people who took better care of themselves, and had greater faith than I, who did not survive. I believe in God's role in my survival because I know I did not do it all myself, and because there are some things about it that I just do not understand.

Why do miracles happen to some and not to others? Perhaps it is not ours to understand. When God speaks to Job, after Job's ceaseless questioning as to why he, a righteous person, should suffer so, God says, "Where were you when I created the earth?" (Job 38:4.) There are many mysteries of God which we do not understand, and cannot be scientifically explained. That does not make them any less real. But people of science and people of faith may have different words for these mysteries.

So what for some is a medical anomaly is for others a miracle. It all depends on what you believe!

In a spirit of fun, reflecting on this conundrum, I wrote these new words to "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General," from Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance." I offer them here in the same spirit of fun, and hope.


I am the very model of a medical anomaly.
I've had K.S., lymphoma, hepatitis,
thrush, and CMV,
Bacterial pneumonia and adrenal insufficiency;
All this and more because I caught a virus they call HIV.

But then I took an antiviral, just like chemotherapy.*
It made me sick, my hair fell out, I suffered neurologically.
But hey! It worked: it stopped all of the HIV activity,
The lymphoma's in remission, and there is no more K.S. to see!

Chorus: Lymphoma's in remission, and there is no more K.S. to see!
Lymphoma's in remission, and there is no more K.S. to see!
Lymphoma's in remission, and there is no more K.S., K.S. to see!

And now a decade later, I'm as healthy as a horse can be.
It surely is a miracle for anyone with faith to see.
But still in journals medical, and scientific inquiry,
I am the very model of a medical anomaly.

Chorus: But still in journals medical, and scientific inquiry,
He is the very model of a medical anomaly!

*The antiviral was Suramin, the first anti-retroviral drug tried against HIV. I was the only one it worked for, and as far as I know, I am the sole survivor of the suramin trials. The drug proved to be too toxic for further use in people living with HIV.

But miracles and medical anomalies still happen! Maybe the next one will be yours! God is greater than HIV and AIDS.

Copyright 1996 by the Rev. Steve Pieters

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