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Fall 2001
AIDS ad the Research Subject
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cells called CR5 was linked to resisting HIV; and, more recently, that highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, dramatically extends survival and slows the progression of AIDS.

For his part, Michael Sausser is just grateful, and slightly amazed, to still be around. When his dementia was diagnosed, the neurologist delivering the news advised him to get his affairs in order because he probably had just a few more months to live. Asked whether his current doctors are surprised by his progress, Michael grows quiet, then begins to softly cry. "Yeah," he murmurs.

Michael is tall and lean, with thin brown hair, a high forehead, rosy skin and small, hazel eyes. He figures he probably contracted the virus in 1980, when he was 18. He is 39 now. On a recent afternoon, he is in the shower after having just returned home to the high-ceilinged condominium in Culver City that he shares with his partner of six years. His two rambunctious dogs æ a golden retriever/German shepherd mix named Noah and a terrier/dachshund mix named Ginger æ are dashing about, barking and nipping at each other. Because Michael can't drive and is homebound except for doctors' visits, workouts at the gym and rare outings to see a film, his dogs are truly his best friends.

Emerging from the bathroom in jeans and a beige sweater, he sits down on a black leather couch and pulls on socks and a pair of leather sandals. On the coffee table are a handful of books that aptly reflect the range of moods of someone battling a terrifying disease, from Final Exit, Derek Humphrey's treatise on committing suicide, to Holidays on Ice, a collection of darkly funny essays by humorist David Sedaris.

Michael is soft-spoken and loves to gab. Though sometimes he wanders off on long tangents, he is articulate and has a good memory. Like an unforgiving mirror, Michael's medical history reflects the worst and the best of the AIDS epidemic æ the fear surrounding disclosure; the euphoria over AZT dampened by discovery of its brutal side effects; the terrifying awakening to HIV's ability to become resistant to drug therapy; the relief at the advent protease inhibitors; the evolution of AIDS from a fatal disease to one that is manageable.

"The major thing that has changed in all this time," says Ronald Mitsuyasu, co-director of UCLA's Center for Clinical AIDS Research and Education, "has been our treatments for HIV itself. We have come from nothing to now having 15 drugs that are commercially available."

In 1988, Michael was a graduate student in urban planning at UCLA when he went to the ER suffering from shingles and hoping to obtain some Tylenol with codeine. The doctor, however, had other ideas. "He wouldn't give me anything until I took an AIDS test," Michael says.

Learning his HIV status was not something Michael was particularly interested in. "Why confirm that when there was nothing they could do for you? I knew what AZT was doing to people," he says. "They were really doing overkill, 1,200 to 1,600 milligrams a day, every two hours. People were on beepers. You couldn't live any semblance of a normal life."

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