Living with HIV
by Sonya Weir
Published in Shared Vision Magazine, Nov. 2001 Issue 159
The power of the human spirit cannot be underestimated. Sixteen years ago, diagnosed with HIV, Brad McIntyre was informed he had six months to live. Refusing conventional drug treatments, and against the advice of his doctors, he explored alternative therapies and natural products. In taking responsibility for his health, he discovered the powerful connection between mind, body, and spirit.
Sixteen years ago, on November 28,
Brad McIntyre was advised to put his house in order, inform his family and friends, and make arrangements
for his funeral. At the new *HIV/AIDS clinic in Hamilton, Ontario, a doctor had just informed him he was HIV positive with six months
to live. In all of twelve minutes, his world was turned upside down.
Having been in a monogamous relationship
with a man for almost a decade, Brad was stunned. "Never
did I entertain the thought of the test results coming back anything
but negative." Later, he wrote about his drive home to Kitchener:
"At any time, I could take hold of the steering wheel and
swerve right off the road. I distinctly remember this strong sense,
while crossing a major bridge, to swerve out of control off the
bridge. The water below would solve everything. I couldn't go
on or face what was ahead." He has since become a tireless
advocate for change and consciously celebrates his life every
day. He doesn't wait for someday. "There is only one of us
here and the time is now," he says, expressing his belief
in the connection that exists between all people and the power
of the present moment.
In the early '80s, there was essentially
no treatment for AIDS other than AZT (chemical name: Azidothymidine,
generic name: Zidovudine). Brad recalls that death came in different
forms. "Opportunistic infections, pneumonia, and cancers
were the most common but other illnesses were popping up as well."
AZT, Burroughs Wellcome's miracle drug, had been approved by the
FDA (Food and Drug Administration) even faster than Thalidomide
in the mid-'60s, giving it the dubious distinction of the drug
most rapidly approved in their history. Originally developed as
cancer chemotherapy, AZT had subsequently been shelved, proving
too expensive, too toxic, and ineffective in treating cancer.
Recalled as a wonder drug to fight AIDS, the side effects were
horrendous. Sigma Co.'s labeling of AZT included the following:
"Toxic by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed.
Target organ(s): Blood bone marrow. If you feel unwell, seek medical
advice. (Show the label where possible) Wear suitable, protective
According to Brad, there was a
major problem with the research: "When Dr. Montanier in France
announced that the HIV caused AIDS, the research was directed
solely at attacking the virus using pharmaceuticals. I believe,
as others do, that this limited the understanding of this disease
and in turn affected the direction treatment took. We may have
overlooked areas or been limited in our assumptions as to how
the virus works." Because of the high dosages administered
and the fact that it was entirely experimental, Brad refused to
take AZT. Others infected with the virus were having positive
results with Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, garlic, Glutamine, Ginseng,
Ginkgo Biloba, Acidophilus, Shitaki mushrooms, Lecithin, and B12.
Brad followed in their footsteps. In the ensuing sixteen years,
he has taken AZT only intermittently, an amount of time equivalent
to nine months. Describing his first treatment in 1990, he says:
"The first six months were fine and then all hell broke loose."
Severe side effects included nausea, headaches, and Neuropathy,
a deterioration of the nervous system in the legs, making walking
almost impossible. He remembers barely managing the two stairs
leading to the hair salon where he worked.
Early on, tremendous fear and
misunderstanding led to talk of people being quarantined and the
possibility of a government list naming all infected individuals.
Even more worrisome was the question of what the government would
do with such a list. As Brad says: "There was little understanding
of a disease that seemed to be killing young gay men in their
'20's and '30s with the stigma attached that this disease was
deadly to anyone infected - a gay plague". He was terrified
that people would find out and worried that his family would suffer
if they had to watch him die. Two and a half years later, Brad
moved from Kitchener to Ottawa where no one knew him. For the
next four years, he lived in fear and isolation in a home that
began to feel like a cage. Today, he has a strong message for
anyone diagnosed with HIV. "There's more power in people
knowing. Don't withdraw. It's important to tell people. I wouldn't
be where I am today if it weren't for all the people in my life."
He adds, "There are shelves in closets for just about everything,
including being gay, drug abuse, and alcoholism."
He has a lot of gratitude for
Marilyn, his AIDS counselor in Ottawa, who opened the door to
healing for him. "Because no one knew I was HIV positive,
she gave me an exercise to do. I was to ask or let someone do
something for me and find those persons I could tell. That was
the beginning." He also shares an inexplicable experience
with a client at his hair salon who knew nothing of his circumstances.
She sat down in his chair one day and announced: "I came
here to tell you that you've suffered long enough and it's time
to get on with your life." Although, he was never to see
her again, he took her words to heart.
Although attitudes towards alternative
therapies have changed considerably over the years, when Brad
was diagnosed, there was virtually no support for anything other
than prescribed drugs. One doctor went so far as to state: "People
who do alternative therapies die." But Brad didn't plan on
dying. Embarking on a course of self-healing, he changed his diet
to live foods and juicing and practiced visualization and meditation.
He saw a Reiki practitioner, studied A Course in Miracles and later underwent ozone and oxygen therapies. "I was in a hurry
to feel good," he says, "because I had felt so bad and
didn't know how much time I had. In that hurried state, the tools
that showed up, I adopted as fast as I could." He came to
understand the mind/body connection and realized that through
his guilt, fear, and hiding, he had been sending negative messages
to his body's cells. In repeating, "I'm afraid, I'm afraid,
I'm afraid," he was using his emotions against himself. He
says simply: "I learned how not to do it."
Brad acknowledges that doctors
today no longer pronounce death sentences and alternative therapies
are more widely accepted. But he has watched too many friends
die after being informed they had six months to live. His own
death sentence was extended many times as he lived past each predicted
demise. He says that the will to live is powerful and should never
be ignored. "Many people have found the strength to combat
their illness, take responsibility for their lives, and make changes
that create wonderful, new benefits to their physical health."
He also believes that "Our immune system is one of the best
disease fighters on the planet." Over the last ten years,
Brad's doctors have said that although they don't know what he's
been doing, whatever it is, he should keep doing it. And he does.
He talks about the benefits of moderate exercise and its immune
boosting endorphins. He cautions against excessive exercise, likening
it to just another form of stress. He adds, "Diet is key."
Brad says that HIV still creates
fear in people who know he's infected, prompting him to state: "I'm not HIV, I'm Brad. I'm a person." Dispelling the
prevailing myth that AIDS is a 'gay disease', he cites current
statistics, noting that 75 percent of the world's AIDS population
is, in fact, heterosexual and 62 percent are women. Tragically,
the largest growing group of people infected is young girls between
the ages of 11 and 15. He notes that Canada lags well behind Europe
in support for alternative methods like ozone therapy. While no
research funding exists in Canada, European doctors have been
involved for the last 40 years. He thinks Vancouver is amazing,
however. He moved here in 1995, six months after being overwhelmed
during his two-month visit by the acceptance of therapies like
body rebalancing and cranial-sacral - practices he had never heard
of. The network of people working with alternative and natural
methods astounded him. During that visit, while standing on the
Burrard Bridge overlooking the water, he had the realization that
he was to return to Ottawa and avail himself to the media as a
vehicle for change. He knew that he had to provide information
to help others. "The response," he says, "wasn't
something I expected."
In 1994, he publicly announced that he had been infected with HIV since 1984 and was still healthy.
He put out a pamphlet providing information on alternative therapies.
For his November 28 anniversary, he organized a huge 'Celebration of Life' at Ottawa's World Exchange Plaza. He was approached by
Michelle Valberg to participate in and be photographed for her
book Look Beyond: The Faces & Stories of People with HIV/AIDS dedicated to Canadians living with HIV/AIDS. On World AIDS
Day in 1994, he appeared on the Dini Petty Show in Toronto. He
joined the Board of Directors of Ottawa's Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation.
He made numerous appearances, wrote articles, and sent countless
letters to the government, beseeching them to
provide proper health care, nutrition, funding for alternative therapies,
and subsidized housing for those infected with HIV. He shed light on the
medical profession's tendency to automatically assume that the
virus caused all HIV patients' medical problems. He cited studies
with healthy animals, proving that when subjected to constant
fear and stress, they surrendered the will to live - like the
thousands of HIV patients who had died after being handed their
death sentences. He implored science to start looking at the possible
multiple causes of the disease, including water and air pollution;
food quality; overuse of antibiotics; stress; drugs and alcohol;
smoking; and sexually transmitted diseases. His commitment to
increase awareness about the disease was unwavering.
In 1998, Brad developed PCP, a
form of pneumonia related to the HIV virus, which proved to be
life threatening. After having come so far, he agreed to a 'drug
cocktail', which included the new Protease Inhibitors, effective
in preventing the virus from replicating. For the next two years,
the treatment was fairly successful. Two years later, Brad's Genome
test determined that he was resistant to almost all available
drugs, including some he had never taken. At the same time, Brad
enrolled in a study on a new drug, ABT 387-R. In only four weeks,
his immune system was boosted. Brad says that people are benefiting
from the drugs prescribed today. There are side effects like elevated
cholesterol levels, hardening of the arteries, and heart attacks,
but as his doctor told him: "This is the price of staying
As of this year, the virus cannot
be detected in Brad's body. With not one viral particle to be
found, it means, as Brad gratefully acknowledges, "there
is a possibility of a miracle." In her book, Look Beyond,
Michelle has caught Brad's irrepressible spirit in a photograph.
With more energy than most people, he continues to "show
up for life," something he strongly encourages everyone to
do. He swims, works out in the gym, rides a bike, and flies a
kite. He believes that everything always works out, saying: "My
life is about trust."
HIV:human immunodeficiency virus
AIDS:Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
* Shared Vision Magazine ceased publishing in 2009.