Monday, December 19, 2011

Thirty Years of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet--I is for Immunomodulators

Thirty Years of AIDS: The AIDS Alphabet--I is for Immunomodulators (Interleukin-2)

"The Hope Principle"
On our journey through the AIDS alphabet we find ourselves at letter I, for Immunomodulators. A class of immunomodulators is administered to patients with weakened immune systems (for example cancer patients or AIDS patients). Here's a short excerpt from JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS that, I hope, sketches a portrait of life on these medications through the story of long-term AIDS survivor, award-winning legally blind photographer Kurt Weston

Self-Portrait w/ Dab the AIDS Bear
Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for stopping by.
Alina Oswald
Author of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, A Biography of AIDS


Excerpt from Chapter Seven: Seeing the Future--Life’s Crystal Ball: Life Without Va


Journeys Through Darkness
The new HAART medications have saved Kurt Weston’s life. Bringing his immune system to a level that doctors considered “safe” was another story and required additional work, time, and treatments.  When he initially started taking Crixivan, Kurt’s immune system was virtually non-existent; therefore the medication, no matter how powerful, could not be as effective as doctors would have liked. They decided to try to boost Kurt’s immune system using immunotherapy—a treatment used to rebuild an individual’s impaired immune system, usually involving the administration of several cycles of immune system stimulants, called immunomodulators. 
    One example of an immunomodulator is Interleukin-2, a substance naturally produced by the body to stimulate its immunity. When the immune system is compromised and deteriorates below a certain level, like in the case of HIV/AIDS or cancer patients, the body cannot produce enough necessary Interleukin-2 and doctors can then intervene and administer a commercial version of the substance in order to boost the body’s immunity. For AIDS patients, Interleukin-2 has the potential to halt HIV progression by maintaining the T cell count in a normal range for prolonged periods of time. Interleukin-2 can also be used for cancer treatment, to prevent the reproduction of cancerous cells.
    For two consecutive years, between 1999 and 2000, Kurt Weston had to go through several Interleukin-2 cycles as part of his immunotherapy. During this time, the photographer received the medication several times a day, five days per cycle, every other month.
    The treatment was helpful and definitely necessary, because the stronger Kurt’s immune system was getting, the better the new HAART medications could help him regain his health and allow him to live an almost normal life. But the treatment also had severe side effects, similar to the ozone therapy ones, including a hundred and four degree fevers and rigors. And because of these side effects, by the second day on Interleukin-2, Kurt started feeling very sick. On the third day, he was holding on to dear life.
    Doctors had to prescribe several medications to control the side effects and help him complete the treatment cycles. Kurt ended up taking Demoral, a powerful pain medication that knocked him out, and also various over the counter pain killers, like aspirin, for the rigors. After each Interleukin-2 cycle Kurt was going through several days of convalescence before he could start feeling better and getting on with his life again, only to resume his therapy a mere month later.
    Kurt Weston survived the treatment and, two years later, he completed all the required immunotherapy cycles. As a result, his immune system eventually started to get better and his T cell count soared from three to six hundred seventy. CMV was again inactive in his body, yet the damage the virus had caused in his eyes was permanent.
To this day, in order to maintain whatever sight he has left, the photographer has to put daily prednisone drops in his eyes. The drops burn his eyes but allow him to continue photographing and creating visual art.