Gay and Grey

HIV/AIDS survivors face new health challenges in senior years

Dr. Silvia Guillemi has treated some of the same HIV-positive patients for 20 years. They outlived their AIDS prognosis, and now face osteoporosis, kidney problems, liver diseases, and higher rates of cancer.

Dr. Silvia Guillemi has treated some of the same HIV-positive patients for 20 years

(Jodie Martinson)

Many gay men diagnosed HIV-positive in the 1980s and 1990s​ outlived their prognosis, but are now facing a new set of health challenges in old age.

Dr. Silvia Guillemi is the director of the Clinical Education and Training program at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. She is also the assistant medical director in the John Ruedy Immunodeficiency Clinic.

Today, people diagnosed HIV-positive can expect to live in to their seventies. But in the early days of the disease, when Guillemi first came to Vancouver, the prognosis was often death.

"There was very little we could offer them for treatments," she said.

"Unfortunately, many of the young men, and in some cases women, were dying in their early twenties."

She says some patients have made it to old age because they were diagnosed and began treatments early. 

Now, however, older HIV-positive people are facing osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney and respiratory problems, and some memory difficulties.

"It seems to be happening a little earlier in HIV infected patients," said Guillemi.

There is more research going on to try to understand their situation. 

Facing it together

Doug Kidd and his partner Alex Kameniczky have lived with HIV for many years. 

In addition to his own health, Kidd takes care of his 97-year-old mother. She's incontinent and has dementia. He visits her twice a day to change her pad. 

"Do you think you need a new pad? No, you don't think so. Well you do," Kidd said to her on a recent visit. 

"You'll be the death of me yet," she snapped back. 

Kidd does not have any children or brothers and sisters living near the Vancouver-area. But he does have Kameniczky, the partner he has lived with for about 10 years. They are each other's old age plan.

For both of them, it was a bumpy road to this stage of life — like the sad night when Kidd's partner before Kameniczky didn't come home on time. 

"I was waiting. We were going to have our Christmas on Boxing Day. I expected him home maybe early afternoon. By seven-o-clock at night, I knew something was wrong," said Kidd. 

Robert died on a highway in a head-on collision. He had been Kidd 's partner for 29 years. 

"I had a chicken in the oven waiting for dinner. I fed it to the dogs. They were all sick. I went out, got a rental car, and drove up and helped them through this grieving time and process for a few days."

Kidd went to help Robert's family, but he says no one helped him. He received no formal mention at the funeral. He says he was treated as a friend, not family. 

Robert was not HIV-positive. Kidd thought Robert would die first.

"What a surprise," he said. "So, I was very alone. Totally alone."

Meanwhile, Kameniczky was facing his own battle with AIDS and AIDS-related cancer on his nose. It meant chemotherapy, surgeries, and expensive medications. The medications cost him $350 a day.

But one man, a pharmacist, showed exception kindness.

"He knew nobody should die just because they can't have a drug, so he took it on himself personally," Kameniczky said.

When Kameniczky's money ran out, the pharmacist would put his drugs on the counter, and turn his back. Kameniczky would pocket them, and walk out the door. 

As Kameniczky's health improved, he returned to work. He saved money to repay his debts. Eventually, he showed up at the pharmacy with a cheque for $5,000. 

"The guy just hugged me and said I never thought I'd see you alive," Kameniczky said. 

"So the best part of being sick is this huge revision you put your life under. The priorities suddenly change. You realize who your friends are, or if there are any, and yes, the world shrunk."

Now, he and Kidd love each other, and care for each other. 

"I think it's the simple things like loyalty and honesty and security that we can provide for one another," said Kameniczky. 

Listen to On The Coast weekdays on CBC Radio One from 3 to 6 p.m. in Metro Vancouver.


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