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This Positive Life: An Interview With Anthony Castro and Frank Lopez

February 1, 2011

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Bonnie Goldman: And they're like, "Oh, we'll take care of you some other time."

Frank Lopez: So, yeah, it did help. Like I said, I started my medication on Aug. 10 of last year. And then about two weeks later, just through casual conversation online on a Web site, I met Anthony. And Anthony and I began to discover that we had a lot of similarities: The same medications, the same allergies, the same specific medical allergies. And so we developed a friendship. And this friendship became a buddy-buddy system.

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To make a long story short, eventually I ended up coming back to San Francisco, and Anthony was in such a situation that it dictated that I would bring him out here. His friends were taking advantage of him, being from a different country and not being familiar. Even though he had been here so many years, the people that he had surrounded himself with were really taking advantage of what was still, in spite of the partying, in spite of the life, was still an innocent heart and mind.

And so I stepped in. And with what limited knowledge I had, I started helping Anthony. Not to toot my own horn, but honestly, it was not a minute too soon. Because his case manager took it upon herself to prescribe a medicine that was clearly documented that he was lethally allergic to. And so when he told me what had happened -- he was going to take the medicine, and I pretty much screamed at him, "Anthony, don't!" He goes, "Why? Why?" I said, "You told me that you're allergic to sulfa-based medicines." And the medicine that they had prescribed, which escapes my mind right now . . .

Anthony Castro: Bactrim.

Frank Lopez: Bactrim is a sulfa-based medicine. And it would have, at the very least, rendered him unconscious, and possibly could have killed him.

Bonnie Goldman: Because your CD4 count was still low?

"I call him my walking miracle because, yes, he was down to 4 T cells, and when we met, he was up to 96. But in the period of 12 months, to go from 96 T cells to 1,023, that's even healthier than an HIV-negative person."

-- Frank Lopez

Anthony Castro: My CD4 was 96.

Bonnie Goldman: But, meaning, at this point.

Frank Lopez: At this point. This was a year ago. And as he mentioned earlier, you know, I call him my walking miracle because, yes, he was down to 4 T cells, and when we met, he was up to 96. But in the period of 12 months, to go from 96 T cells to 1,023, that's even healthier than an HIV-negative person.

Bonnie Goldman: And that's pretty much not average.

Frank Lopez: It's not average. And that's why I say he is my inspiration. And through Anthony, I learned to love someone other than myself.

Bonnie Goldman: Was he your first HIV-positive boyfriend?

Frank Lopez: Yes. But he was not my first HIV-positive experience. He was my first HIV-positive boyfriend. Right now, my preference right now, God forbid that we should ever break up, but there are other complications that go with mixed couples that, in my life, I don't need.

In this process, I just -- everything I do, I do for Anthony. Honestly, my joy is to see him laugh, to see him smile. It gives me life. And you know, having lost Willi, and having refound myself again through Anthony, I'm living a really good life right now. It's difficult. You know, we're both on San Francisco's General Assistance. I went from being a jet-setter to almost being on the streets. And, as it stands, we have to move again. But it's not for financial reasons. We're moving because we are in an environment where drugs are prevalent. And we know that drugs really affect our HIV health.

Bonnie Goldman: Do you take drugs?

Frank Lopez: No I don't.

Bonnie Goldman: Did you used to?

Frank Lopez: Yes. That's how I became infected. I started experimenting with meth at a low point in my life, and I just didn't care anymore. I had risky sexual behavior and the end result was becoming HIV positive. And not just because of the risky sexual behavior, but what a lot of people don't realize is that the use of meth actually lowers your immune system. It destroys it. So even if my body could have fought it off, because I was using meth, it didn't. It just basically welcomed the HIV in.

At this point right now, I never would have thought that I would be in the relationship that I'm in. At the time I didn't want a relationship. But this is one persistent little person, let me tell you. And I'm just, I'm grateful. I do feel blessed.

In the period of a year I have gone from 300 T cells to over 600. I went from a half a million viral load to undetectable. I went from being self-centered to being altruistic. And I went from -- even though I still battle depression, the way that I deal with it now is giving of myself, and appreciating what I do have, and recognizing that what I have is no small thing. And this is the best evidence of it.

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