John-Manuel Andriote is a journalist who has dedicated his life to telling the narrative of those living with HIV/AIDS. Now, he shares his personal story of living with HIV, telling the challenges he deals with each day.
When John-Manuel Andriote was a young man living in New York and Boston in the early 80s, he watched people around him become sick and die from what was then a "mystery illness."
"I saw middle class, educated men suddenly impoverished," he said. "They relied on Medicare, Medicaid and charity to get their medication to live for what was then a relatively short time after their AIDS diagnosis."
He watched older friends - at that point in their 40s - all die of AIDS within a few years. In the face of mourning several losses, it wasn't until 2005 that the devastation of the virus hit home.
At age 47, doctors had diagnosed Andriote with HIV. It was a life-changing announcement that now dictates his daily routine.
If you get an early diagnosis and receive the right medication, a person who is HIV positive can live a virtually normal life span, however, at a cost.
At the time Andriote was diagnosed, his insurance policy only covered $1,500 (1,153 euros) a year for prescription medication while the cost of the medications he needed cost more than $1,500 dollars a month.
For him, navigating expenses in addition to the multitude of pills he had to take every day took a financial and physical toll. Andriote described dealing with side effects as a "nightmare."
"I was really nervous about taking the medication," he said. "What were the implications if I started taking the medication then stopped again because I couldn't afford to continue."
He takes four tablets of a protease inhibitor, Kaletra, a drug used to prevent the virus from replicating. He takes two in the afternoon and two in the evening. "Taking all four at once is a little harsh on the stomach," he said. Then come Epsicom to help reduce the severity of HIV. They are followed by one Tricor tablet, which is a medication that prevents the development of tryglycerides, a type of fat that when too high it increases your risks for heart attacks and strokes. The final drug he takes is Allopurinol, which keeps his uric acid at a manageable level.
In addition to a lengthy list of drugs, Andriote also takes multi-vitamins, a baby aspirin and milk thistle to stop the pills from damaging his liver.
Eating and drinking the right things has never been more important to him. "Even my tea is deliberate," he said. "Green tea has lots of anti oxidant properties and peppermint is soothing on the gut."
"Frosting on the cake"
Both an author and journalist, Andriote has spent more than a quarter of a century writing about HIV and AIDS issues. He is considered to be one of America's leading writers on the topic.
Focusing on his health has meant diverting his attention away from working. Managing the symptoms of HIV soon became a harsher reality for Andriote.
"I now find myself living in my mother's bedroom back in Connecticut with all my furniture in storage because I couldn't afford to pay the rent," he said. "It's not where I thought I would be at 54 years old."
Despite the difficulties he faces every day, Andriote shows no signs of giving up or losing hope.
"It makes me more conscious of the things in life I'm grateful for," he said. "If you start out from the attitude that you are grateful to be alive everything else is just frosting on the cake."
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