HIV :: HIV/AIDS drugs saved my life!

From the time I was told I had ?six months to live? by an AIDS specialist in 1985, I learned from other people infected with HIV and included supplements and complementary therapies. These kept me healthy and were responsible for allowing me to address health issues, boost my immune system and avoid going on HIV/AIDS medications for over a dozen years.

It was not that I did not get sick or need medical attention throughout the years, because I certainly did. There were countless doctor?s appointments, blood tests at the hospital to keep watch on how my body was reacting to having the virus and more times than I can count trying to fix whatever complications appeared. Throughout these years, large numbers of infected individuals went from a weakened immune system, to no immune system, to one sickness after another. With the advent of newer and better HIV/AIDS medications and a much broader understanding of this illness, individuals have been able to bounce back and have wellness restored with the aid of combination therapies. Equally, throughout everything, sick or well, complementary therapies are a mainstay to address: diarrhea, nausea, neuropathy, irritated skin and rashes, wasting, fatigue, loss of appetite, immunosuppression and more, when it comes to living with HIV. We have learned a much broader understanding of this illness!

After approximately 13 years since diagnosis of infection with HIV, I did become seriously ill. In July of 1998, I developed pneumocystis-carinii-pneumonia, known as PCP. My health deteriorated and it looked as though I might die. My only recourse was to try an HIV/AIDS drug combination to boost my compromised immune system enough to fight off the pneumonia. That is exactly what happened. On December 1st, World AIDS DAY, 1998, I started my first ever HIV/AIDS drug combination treatment. After just four weeks on the medication, my cd4 count of 40 went up a couple hundred points; eradicated the PCP and the viral load of several millions viral particles went down to thousands. With a reduced viral load, I could once again absorb nutrients. I regained the weight lost and started to strengthen my body through nutrition, exercise and complementary therapies.

People who knew me were very surprised that I started HIV/AIDS medications. They knew I was very involved in addressing HIV infection through alternative and complementary therapies. Although I was fortunate to have lived 13 years without highly active antiretroviral therapies (HARRT), I was not opposed to them. I was very successful addressing my health concerns without them, but I was aware of the benefits of pharmaceutical treatments and kept myself well informed. I knew there was a possibility of having to go on them one day. It was my hope that I could maintain good health without them, or by the time I needed them that they would be much improved from the drugs used in earlier years. It worked out for me in the long run. Without the drug combination therapy, I would not have survived. They saved my life!

Without the availability of these drugs, there would be far more suffering and deaths. Some individuals do not tolerate these medications, as they can be toxic. This is true of the treatments for many people who live with cancer and other illness, but you do not see activists denouncing the use of these life saving drugs. Myself and countless others have gone on to enjoy life, aided by these medications and it is very important to recognize the enormous benefits from the treatments available.

After two years, my HIV/AIDS drug combination began to fail. A genome test showed I was resistant to all the HIV/AIDS medications, even though my only usage consisted of AZT for 9 months (years earlier) and the current drug treatment. In 2000, with resistance to all existing HIV/AIDS medications, I enrolled in a drug study for a new protease inhibitor, Kaletra. Within the first four weeks on the drug my cd4 count climbed to 340 and my viral load was undetectable (less than 50 particles). In 2001, Kaletra was approved for use. Here it is 2004, and I am still taking Kaletra and I have a cd4 count of 470 and the virus is undetectable.

I recognize the significant accomplishments of science, medicine and the pharmaceutical companies and commend the work being done. Many are benefiting and I have seen people who were seriously ill regain a quality of health due to the HIV/AIDS treatments, myself included! I have seen people who were at one time in wheelchairs, recover and return to wellness due to new drug treatments and protease inhibitors. Weight gain, energy and hope have been restored in what might otherwise have meant death without these drugs. Initially, people did not have the treatment options we have today, but they led the way. Many people died in the process. People offered themselves to science in the hope of finding a way to stay well, stay alive and move forward in treatment options. Without individuals engaged in studies and drug trials, we would not have the success in saving lives we have today. Many benefit and live longer due to the new drug treatments and protease inhibitors available. Obviously, we are moving forward in the development of more effective drug treatments!

Bradford McIntyre, HIV+ 20 years
Vancouver, B.C. Canada

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