David Polson

"St Vincent's saved my life"

David Polson, now 54, recalls the fear and stigma surrounding HIV when he was among the first 400 men diagnosed with the deadly virus in 1984. Today David is committed to educating the broader community about HIV, and is a regular public speaker. Sanchia Brahimi talks to David about his experience.

SB: What prompted you to get tested? Were you suffering symptoms? Or was it more a routine check-up?

DP: I was tested long before the virus had really had its devastating effect on the community. There was a sign in my doctor’s surgery offering an HIV test. As I was a young gay male I thought it prudent to get tested. I was among the first 400 men diagnosed with HIV in 1984.

SB: What medical treatments were available then?

DP: For the first 10 years of being diagnosed, there were no drugs or treatment available. So I created my own regime of rigorous exercise, excellent diet, a myriad of vitamin supplements, visualisation and meditation.

SB: What is your treatment plan today compared to 30 years ago?

DP: I’ve been on 29 drug trials, and yes, there have been side effects. Because I’ve been on so many drugs in the past, my body has built up a resistance to many classes of HIV medications. So my treatment plan today, while being fantastic, is complex. I no longer take the huge number of vitamin supplements I once did, but exercise and excellent diet are a huge focus in my life outside my medication regime.

SB: What does a typical day look like in terms of your treatment?

DP: I take roughly 18 pills in total (it used to be 48 but has been cut down due to more effective medications) – five HIV ones and others to help cope with the side effects from the trial drugs. For patients diagnosed in the last few years, they do not have to take such a cocktail of drugs – just one or two tablets. But I happily take my 18 pills as they keep me alive. I am very lucky to have had such marvellous medical support from the team at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney. I owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

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