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THE MAGIC BULLET
Jack McCallum
August 20, 2001
WHAT WE KNOW—AND DON'T KNOW—ABOUT HIS HEALTH AND HIS PROGNOSIS
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August 20, 2001

The Magic Bullet

WHAT WE KNOW—AND DON'T KNOW—ABOUT HIS HEALTH AND HIS PROGNOSIS

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Is Magic still HIV positive? Yes. Barring a research breakthrough not yet on the horizon, he always will be.

What does it mean, then, that he is asymptomatic? The disease is not manifesting itself in any of the normal ways—weight loss, skin blotches, low energy or, most significant, low resistance to opportunistic infections. The most important medical terms for HIV-positive people are viral load and T-cell count. The first is a measure of the amount of virus in the blood, the second of the effectiveness of the body's immune system. Magic's latest blood test—he takes one every three or four months—revealed, as has been the case for a long while, no detectable viral load and a T-cell count considered within normal range.

How do we know that he still has the disease? Because other tests indicate that, while it's not growing or reproducing, the virus is still there. Most experts believe there is no evidence that the virus has ever disappeared from an HIV-positive patient.

Will Magic eventually get full-blown AIDS? No one knows for sure, but it now seems likely that he will not get it.

Is Magic's wife, Cookie, HIV-positive? Ho. She was tested several times after Magic learned he had the disease, and the tests were negative. As long as the Johnsons practice safe sex, her chances of contracting the virus from him are almost nil. Cookie was pregnant when Magic's condition was diagnosed. Their nine-year-old son, E.J., is also HIV-negative.

Other than having HIV, is Magic healthy? By any of the conventional ways the health of a 41-year-old man is measured—heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol level—Johnson could hardly be healthier.

What medications does he take? Those available to anyone who has access to medical treatment. He takes one pill in the morning, usually with food, another before he goes to bed. The mixture of medication contained in those two "cocktails" replaces the complicated multipill regimen that HIV patients endured through much of the '90s. (The most pills Magic ever took per day was four.) One of the pills Magic takes now is Combivir, which contains AZT, the most familiar HIV-fighting drug, and 3TC, an AZT-like drug that has been around since '95. The other pill is a protease inhibitor, which suppresses the AIDS virus and whose discovery in 1996 revolutionized treatment. Magic's doctor, Mickey Mellman, says, "The point is that this is one area where he's not doing anything magical."

Is he on a special diet? Magic changed his eating habits after the virus was detected, and he continues to eat healthily—almost no red meat, limited fried food, lots of chicken, fish and vegetables. Every day he's in the office, his assistant, Anjie Delgardo, makes him a fruit salad so mammoth that the United Fruit Growers of America should vote him its man of the year.

Did Magic ever take experimental drugs or receive experimental treatment? Ho, but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. Patient and doctor received hundreds of ideas, everything from oxygen therapy to ingesting apricot-pit extract. Magic received in the mail a container of something that looked like sour milk; he threw it out without opening it. Someone advised him to drain his blood, replace it and drink the old blood. Someone wrote to Mellman with news that he had come into contact with an alien who told him how to cure AIDS.

What is the sickest he has been during these 10 years? Magic and his doctor say that he has never manifested any signs of the disease. At one point, before the advent of protease inhibitors, Magic's T-cell count was "low normal." That's as specific as Mellman will get.

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