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KCBS Cover Story: Growing Old With AIDS

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)- People who contracted HIV when the epidemic began almost 30 years ago never imagined using the words “AIDS” and “old age” in the same sentence. But on Wednesday, World AIDS Day, the combination of those two things poses new challenges for people with HIV, and their doctors.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

John Clark, 53, comes to Ward 86, the legendary AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, to see his doctor. He’s been HIV positive since 1988, and he never dared hope he would still be coming here 22 years later.

“Back then it was so bad and I was losing so many friends,” said Clark. “You just didn’t know. Nobody knew.”

Clark was once so sick, he almost died. But now, he manages his HIV with twice-daily medication.

“At this point it’s kind of just a day to day thing as far as taking the meds, exercise, rest,” said Clark. “It’s the basics, just like anybody.”

Dr. Brad Hare, the director of the clinic, said an HIV diagnosis isn’t the death sentence it once was, and that can be difficult for some people to accept.

“What I tell my patients when they’re diagnosed is that they have to plan for retirement, they have to plan to be an old person, and for this aging process to occur because we expect it in people with HIV,” said Hare.

More than 100,000 Californians are living with HIV, and about ten percent of them are over 50.

“There are a lot of complex challenges that these patients are facing as aging occurs,” said Hare.

Dr. Malcolm John, who directs 360, the Positive Care Center at UCSF said that he finds that people with HIV suffer the same problems as other aging patients, including heart trouble and liver disease, but at an accelerated pace.

“We all started hearing from our patients concerns about their cognition, memory, and it seemed to be a little out of proportion from their HIV-negative peers,” said John.

Now UC’s California HIV/AIDS Research Program is granting more than $6 million to five AIDS centers, including this one, to study how to improve and integrate care, especially for these older patients.

Clark, still shakes his head in wonder, at the notion that he got AIDS in the 1980s, and he’s reached middle age.

“You can fight it, and live with it,” said Clark.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

More from Doug Sovern
  • John Clarke

    Hi Doug,
    It’s John Clarke, you interviewed me. I wanted to thank you for the opportunity, and to update you as to what’s been going on: That day you interviewed me I had just seen my Dr. Beatty who had given me a cursory physical exam during which he thought one of my kidneys was enlarged. Ordered a CT scan. Had the CT scan 12/28, they found a large abcess in my lower left lumbar (back) muscle. Nothing to do with the kidney but the abcess had wrapped around a major artery. Into Hospital that afternoon, interventional radiology procedure the nxt morning. Kept for 24 hrs observation. Drain tube inserted w/ fluid bag for collection. Finally had that removed 12/13. They’re still not sure what caused it – yesterday I had a EK sonagram done to see if perhaps heart damage could be the cause, so I’m sweating that out; on penicillin as well.

    I thought you might be interested as I’m sure this is not an unusual episode for those of us older Poz people. Keeping my optimistic outlook has been a little challenging though….

    Anyway, thank again for the interview and hope all is well with you!

  • John

    Correction: had tube removed 1/13/11

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