Drawing strength from within LIVING WITH AIDS

AT THE 10th international conference on AIDS, which recently was held in Japan, immunologist William E. Paul, director of the U.S. Office of AIDS Research, said that while there's no cure for the disease on the horizon, there is a positive phenomenon at work: There are some long-term HIV survivors, or, as the scientists call it, long-term non-progression of the disease.

It seems that while almost every person who has HIV eventually gets sick and dies, about 5 percent are still in good health 12 to 15 years after their infection.


I, as an AIDS sufferer, find strength in that message. I intend to be a long-term survivor.

Recently, I sat with my physician, Dr. Christie Lamping, in a first-floor room at Payson Medical Center at Bon Secours Hospital and chatted about my health. Dr. Lamping -- who treats her patients with respect, not as medical curiosities -- welcomes my layman input on all phases of my treatment. She encourages an open and honest dialogue.


So it's rare for her to surprise me when discussing my health, but on this particular day she did.

She peered over her eyeglasses after reviewing my medical chart, heaved a sigh, smiled faintly and shook her head. Then speaking barely above a whisper said: "INCREDIBLE."

"What's incredible?" I asked.

"I'm trying to figure out what keeps you alive," she said. "According to your chart, even with the support of all available treatments, you should have expired months ago . . . especially back when you say you caught that bad cold. The fact that you DTC are still alive is more than wonderful and exciting, it's a miracle, if you want to know the truth."

Now it was my turn to be surprised. Not at her news, (I am very ill. I can look in the mirror and see it. I feel it as I trudge around.) but rather I was surprised because I know science has little patience with miracles. Jay A. Levy's research on long-term AIDS survivors seems evidence of that.

When you place your terminal fate securely in the folds of your faith, then, this gesture is not always scientifically accepted or well understood. Thus, it was my turn to shake my head with a faint smile.

No matter what befalls you in life, you are always left with the high road and the low road to travel. I have taken my circumstance to the high road. I firmly believe that the best treatment available to me is pulled from the strength in my spirit and in my mind. I honestly believe that positive thinking, sincere spirituality and a healthy diet are by far the most effective weapons we currently have in the fight against the effects of AIDS.

H. B. Johnson Jr., a poet and playwright, writes periodically for Other Voices on living with AIDS.