The Lazarus Effect
by Liz Highleyman
When John Iversen, now 59, tested HIV positive in January 1986, he threw himself into AIDS activism, co-founding ACT UP/East Bay and a Berkeley needle exchange program. By the late 1980s, his CD4s had fallen to about 200. Observing that AZT (retrovir) taken by itself didn’t seem to help people, he joined a trial of Compound Q, an experimental herbal therapy. His CD4 count climbed, but he developed rheumatoid arthritis that left him bedridden and he experienced severe bowel problems caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.
With a CD4 count of 46 in 1995, Iversen started a drug regimen of three NRTIs and a year later added a double dose of a PI. He gained 50 pounds, stopped his CMV treatment and could finally get around without a walker.
After a decade on the same PI, Iversen has had difficulty keeping his viral load consistently undetectable with his current drug combo. He hopes that a switch to Prezista (darunavir) plus Truvada plus the new NNRTI Intelence (etravirine) will do the trick. He’s had “no major side effects” on his current regimen, which he attributes to complementary therapy including vitamins, Chinese herbs and acupuncture. He also watches what he eats, does yoga and exercises regularly.
Though still on disability, Iversen works tirelessly as an advocate. He helps people with HIV in developing countries gain access to the treatments that turned his own life around, and he raises several thousand dollars a year for an orphanage started by HIV-positive people in Uganda.
Search: John Iversen, ACT UP/East Bay, needle exchange program, Berkeley, trial, Compound Q
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