This is Part 2 of a 20-part series
For many who receive a medical death sentence, life comes to a screeching halt while the pace of time seemingly accelerates. For David Patient, HIV/AIDS meant that life was just beginning.
Patient was a rare phenomenon. As a sensitive, emotionally tormented, suicidal young man, the twenty-two year old realized that not only did he want to live, but the virus inside of him wanted to live too. Thus, in 1983, Patient and his disease (which was baffling medical researchers worldwide) became allies.
After his initial diagnosis as terminal, Patient moved from his home in Las Vegas to Florida. There, in 1986, he participated in the very first human trials of an antiretroviral (ARV) drug referred to as AZT (azidothymidine). Patient quickly became ill from side effects. Consequently, he and one other person dropped out of the trials.
As of 2004, at the time of Patient co-authoring the book, The Healer Inside You, he and the other person who had dropped out of the AZT trials were the only two people of the initial trial still alive. Patient later learned that the deaths were not from the drug itself, but from the high dosages administered in the early trials.
Also in the late 80s, Patient abruptly ended the use of illicit drugs, which he had engaged in for years to numb chronic depression. This led to productive decisions such as learning to become a chef, attending support groups for people with HIV/AIDS, and getting certified as a hypnotherapist – a skill which empowered Patient to help people with HIV/AIDS manage pain and suffering as they died.
Throwing himself into personal growth, educational endeavors, and social support, Patient transformed from a reckless young man into a caring and focused adult. He assisted in the establishment of the first AIDS agency in Florida, and in 1992 received a commendation from then President Bill Clinton for his work in AIDS.
During these years, Patient was also involved in studies of “long-term non-progressors,” which required regular visits to research labs. A “non-progressor” is someone with HIV whose immune system does not get weaker, even after decades of infection. However, Patient does not fit the technical definition of a “non-progressor,” because his immune system initially weakened after diagnosis, but later improved - without medication.
(This was a phenomenon reported in only 3% to 7% of people with HIV in the 80s and 90s).
While Patient experienced rare improvements in his health before effective drug therapies were available, he was not an advocate against pharmaceuticals. He believed that individuals with illness should use anything they have at their disposal to their improve conditions.
In the years before effective HIV/AIDS drug therapies were available, Patient supported himself and others through the skilled use of counseling and nutrition. However, when effective drugs for HIV/AIDS became available, Patient put his neck on the line to ensure that underserved populations could also access them.
In 1992, Patient relocated to California, where he opened a counseling practice.
Meanwhile, back in South Africa, where Patient had grown up, the longstanding Apartheid government was nearing its demise.
In 1990, revered anti-Apartheid activist Nelson Mandela had been released from a 27-year prison sentence. This enlivened new hope for a democratic South Africa. Since David Patient had been exiled from South Africa since the age of 18, these political changes filled him with excitement over the possibility of returning to his home country (see Part Two for more details).
Until then, Patient found ways to support his fellow South Africans with HIV/AIDS by shipping ARVs (antiretrovirals) overseas.
He was living in San Francisco at the time, where people with HIV/AIDS were given ARVs at no-cost to manage the disease. Patient began working for an agency which, after the death of San Francisco-based, free ARV recipients, gathered and shipped any of their unused medications to South Africa to be used by underserved persons-in-need.
Patient waited for the day that he could return to South Africa to teach indigenous populations how to use effective drug therapies, mind-body-science, and nutrition to support their mental, emotional, and physical health.
His journey in disease containment and prevention was only beginning, yet he had already outlived his initial medical death sentence by nearly a decade.
To be continued…