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Magic Johnson remains a living symbol of hope
November 8, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Magic Johnson still beating HIV 20 years later 2 decades after being diagnosed with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS, Magic Johnson is still going strong. His foundation is helping others, giving them hope while educating people about the disease.
posted by 2manyusernames (39 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
For people with unlimited money and access to healthcare, HIV has become a chronic manageable disease. For everyone else, not so much.
posted by killdevil at 7:56 AM on November 8, 2011 [29 favorites]


There was a recent interesting 538 post on how Johnson's announcement of his HIV positive status changed public opinion about AIDS.
posted by zamboni at 7:57 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know who else has been beating HIV for over twenty years? Jim J. Bullock. WHERE IS HIS FPP, EH?
posted by mightygodking at 8:07 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It absolutely changed the entire character of the dialog. I remember watching the broadcast of his announcement. You could almost hear the cognitive dissonance clanging around the world..."BUT BUT BUT...HE'S NOT GAY!!!"
posted by spicynuts at 8:08 AM on November 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


It was our Kennedy assassination moment, our Challenger space shuttle moment, a moment when the Southland lost its sports innocence.

I remember him giving his speech about how he "attained" HIV and yeah, it was a surprise. There had been plenty of high profile victims, but this guy wasn't Rock Hudson, this was Magic Johnson, this was the guy Michael Jordan wanted to be like.

I am happy for Ervin Johnson. I wish him the best.

But the fact that "Kennedy" didn't die, I think, has lessened people's fear of the disease. I have been surprised by the number of people who remark to me that Johnson "got cured" of HIV, which is in part true because he's lived a relatively healthy 20 years with the disease. Good for him I wish him 20 years more and then another 20 years. But he's not cured. And AIDS is still a problem.

The high profile success of this one man makes is seem as if the AIDS boogey man isn't as frightening and scary as it was made out to be and for most people without the resources of Magic Johnson that is probably less than a good thing.

Which is a terrible thing to say because I wish no ill will towards Magic and I'm glad after so many others got beaten by the disease Johnson showed it didn't have to be a death sentence.
posted by three blind mice at 8:08 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Managed to live without the deletrious effects of HIV, you say? Talk about a Magic Johnson!





I am so, so sorry.
posted by grubi at 8:11 AM on November 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


I found out about Magic Johnson having HIV while I was at a Soundgarden show. Chris Cornell dedicated Big Dumb Sex to him and broke the news.
posted by Sailormom at 8:12 AM on November 8, 2011


I have an in-law who learned of his positive HIV status just after drugs became available to manage it. He has a very good job; the most important part of that job is his health benefits, which, bluntly put, keep him alive. He enjoys traveling and a very active life, but if he were to lose his job... talk about scary.

Now that we've got folks turned around on what it means to have HIV, let's see if we can get 'em to see the value of affordable health care for all. I'm not holding my breath.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:16 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember watching the broadcast of his announcement. You could almost hear the cognitive dissonance clanging around the world..."BUT BUT BUT...HE'S NOT GAY!!!"

I remember Martina Navratilova observing that if it had been a female athlete who contracted HIV while serially fucking around on her spouse, she would have been crucified by the media as a slut who got what she deserved.
posted by Trurl at 8:17 AM on November 8, 2011 [23 favorites]


HIV is a life sentence, not a death sentence (unless you are in the 3rd World)
posted by Renoroc at 8:18 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


killdevil: "For people with unlimited money and access to healthcare, HIV has become a chronic manageable disease. For everyone else, not so much."

I have friends who are HIV+ and make about $50,000 a year. They receive all the treatment that they need, and will never progress to AIDS, or die of HIV-related causes if they keep the treatment up.

Granted, they're fucked if they ever lose insurance coverage, but HIV treatment is by no means reserved for the fantastically wealthy. Without insurance, I believe the treatment costs run about $1500-$3000 a month. Hardly affordable to the average Joe, but still a far cry from what Magic Johnson had to spend to stay alive. There are also numerous government and charitable programs that can help to close the gap.

Being poor and HIV+ is not a death sentence, and it's dangerous to spread that myth, lest it causes somebody to not seek out treatment.

That's not to say that HIV is a cakewalk. I still wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. However, we need the dialogue to progress and acknowledge that HIV treatment is available, and cheaper than many other treatable chronic health conditions. If anything, we should be pushing for widespread availability of free public treatment, given that studies are beginning to reveal that ARV therapy drastically reduces transmission rates, and can also prevent HIV infection for those who have been unintentionally exposed, if administered shortly after exposure.

We may not be currently equipped to cure HIV, but we do have plenty of weapons in our arsenal to drastically reduce the number of new cases, and treat current patients. These people are hardly on life support as some above have alluded, any more than a diabetic who takes insulin is "being kept alive" by that treatment.
posted by schmod at 8:21 AM on November 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


For people with unlimited money and access to healthcare, HIV has become a chronic manageable disease. For everyone else, not so much.

This includes most people in the US. The public health infrastructure for HIV in this country, while not perfect, is very good. The government pays for all the relevant medications. There are places where there are waitlists for treatment (mostly in the South), but there are only about 9000 people on those waitlists, which is pretty good when you consider that there are ~700k folks diagnosed with the disease in the US.
posted by OmieWise at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great, he's beating HIV. Now if he's just stop helping to rip off poor people.
posted by jessssse at 8:23 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It absolutely changed the entire character of the dialog. I remember watching the broadcast of his announcement. You could almost hear the cognitive dissonance clanging around the world..."BUT BUT BUT...HE'S NOT GAY!!!"

I was twelve when the announcement was made. I heard about it on the schoolyard, and I didn't believe it. To be fair to my twelve-year-old self, I had previously fallen for the rumors of Scott Baio dying and Donny Walberg needing to get his stomach pumped after sucking off an entire soccer team, so I was determined not to be the victim of this sort of rumor/prank again.

My best friend told me that Magic Johnson had AIDS, and I laughed in his face, because, come on, Magic Johnson is married.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:23 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Trurl: "I remember Martina Navratilova observing that if it had been a female athlete who contracted HIV while serially fucking around on her spouse, she would have been crucified by the media as a slut who got what she deserved."

interesting theory. My gut feeling reply is the fact that a very very large percentage of male athletes are "serially fucking around" whereas much fewer female athletes are doing the same. When so many are doing something the impact of one person doing it is far less.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:27 AM on November 8, 2011


interesting theory. My gut feeling reply is the fact that a very very large percentage of male athletes are "serially fucking around" whereas much fewer female athletes are doing the same. When so many are doing something the impact of one person doing it is far less.

Yeah, no, it's the sexism.
posted by OmieWise at 8:33 AM on November 8, 2011 [26 favorites]


Donny Walberg needing to get his stomach pumped after sucking off an entire soccer team

In my generation, that was Rod Stewart and it was his backing band.

Funny how attitudes have changed so much over time. I remember when it came out that Magic Johnson had HIV. So many people I worked with, including myself at the time, commented on how he was probably a "fag" and now he had AIDS and was going to die. Quite a lot of people felt he deserved it because if he wasn't gay he wouldn't have it.

It makes me cringe to think of the jokes we made and how I was brought up (not so much by my parents, who mostly pretended such things didn't exist, or were only reserved for "sick" people, but by my friends, teachers, priests, and peers) to think that gay people were some class of evil, sick person who has chosen this lifestyle. But hey, at least this new AIDS thing will wipe them all out! Go back and watch some old Eddie Murphy or Sam Kinnison routines to see what the general attitude was.

Guh. I want to go back to the teenage and 20-something me and punch me in the face.

Back on topic, I have a friend who came out as HIV+ back in the late 90s. Even then, I assumed he wouldn't be around much longer. He's still alive and well, thankfully.
posted by bondcliff at 8:33 AM on November 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Great, he's beating HIV. Now if he's just stop helping to rip off poor people.

He was a paid spokeman for a company and the lawsuit is from two years ago. Don't make it sound like he's Bernie Fucking Madoff.
posted by grubi at 8:38 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the MJF (Magic Johnson Foundation) does really good work, especially for urban youth, all across the country. People with axes to grind should probably take it elsewhere.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:41 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Several months ago when it was 110 degrees for way too long ehre in Texas, there was a scraggly cat that hadn't moved from under a tree in my yard for three days when I scooped him up and took him to the vet. I got him fixed, but he also has FIV, so I named him Magic Johnson. He's doing fine so far, so it must've worked.
posted by cmoj at 8:46 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know who else has been beating HIV for over twenty years? Jim J. Bullock. WHERE IS HIS FPP, EH?

#1

#2
posted by mrgrimm at 8:57 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The government pays for all the relevant medications. There are places where there are waitlists for treatment (mostly in the South), but there are only about 9000 people on those waitlists, which is pretty good when you consider that there are ~700k folks diagnosed with the disease in the US.

It's not pretty good if you're on the waiting list and you have to wait in line for years to get a medication that you need to be taking daily to live. And "the government " (what government?) does NOT pay for "all the relevant medications." Even if it does, how long is that going to last in our almighty new age of austerity?
posted by blucevalo at 9:03 AM on November 8, 2011


It's not pretty good if you're on the waiting list and you have to wait in line for years to get a medication that you need to be taking daily to live.

Well, no, that's how statistics work. But anytime anything isn't 100%, it really sucks to be the person in the other x%. (In this case ~98.7% of people are covered.)

And "the government " (what government?) does NOT pay for "all the relevant medications."

What do you mean? I'm honestly not sure. The government is the US government through funds attached to what is popularly called the Ryan White Care Act Part B, disbursed through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). What drugs do you think are relevant but not covered by ADAP*? Your comment reads a little like you're angry about something but don't really know the details, but if I'm missing something please let me know. I don't know exactly how ADAP works in every state, but I have a pretty good general working knowledge of the program, and I know the specifics in the two states in which I've worked in HIV public health.

*Yes, the ADAP formulary varies from state to state, but does cover anti-retrovirals across the country.
posted by OmieWise at 9:24 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Canadians with HIV don't have to be rich to receive care, and they're all insured, by definition. Nobody in Canada has to worry about "losing" their health insurance.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:41 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Canadians with HIV don't have to be rich to receive care, and they're all insured, by definition. Nobody in Canada has to worry about "losing" their health insurance.

Yeah, I think I heard about that somewhere. Where did I hear about this Canadian health insurance thing? Hm.
posted by padraigin at 9:48 AM on November 8, 2011


That's almost exactly what I was going to write!

ethnomethodologist, what's the point of your comment?
posted by OmieWise at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2011


The cure for AIDS is money. Didn't anyone see the South Park episode? You need to inject large amounts of concentrated cash.
posted by Leisure_Muffin at 9:51 AM on November 8, 2011


The high profile success of this one man makes is seem as if the AIDS boogey man isn't as frightening and scary as it was made out to be and for most people without the resources of Magic Johnson that is probably less than a good thing.

To his credit, Johnson is well aware of this phenomenon:


"I guess I was the blessing," Magic said, "and then I was the curse."
We were sitting in the lobby of a hotel during the 2011 NBA Finals, which Magic was working as analyst for ABC. The subject was HIV.
"The blessing was that I came out and announced and everybody started talking about AIDS openly, maybe for the first time," Magic said. "Then the curse came because kids started saying, 'Oh, I can get it and still be like Magic. He's all over the place. He's doing fine.'"
Magic felt obligated, as he should, to set the medical record straight.
"You can't look at the example of one person and say, 'I'll be like that,'" he said. "The virus acts differently in everybody. Hopefully the meds work and there's early detection. But you can't be sure. Early detection is the key because full-blown AIDS is still a death sentence. It's important that people get checked."

posted by stargell at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


ADAP formularies (the lists of drugs covered) AND eligibility criteria vary widely from state to state. The waiting lists would be much, much longer if the eligibility criteria used in my state were used across the country. While all of them cover anti-retrovirals, I would be very happy to make the case that drugs for all opportunistic infections, for co-morbid conditions such as hepatitis C, for treating side effects of the meds, and for related issues that when treated can improve quality of life, such as anti-depressants, should be covered. They are in fact covered in states like California or New York.

ADAP is a stop-gap system in the absence of real universal health care. How well it works depends almost entirely on where in the country you live. The same, of course, is true for Medicaid. Ryan White has a lot more gaps to fill in states that have really crappy Medicaid programs (i.e. most of the South) or states that have refused to contribute their own tax dollars to HIV care.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:15 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Slightly more on topic, I heard the news while I was in a taxi in New Orleans on my way to an HIV conference. I remember wondering how this news would change things, if at all. I cynically thought at the time that this was going to turn out to be about him being gay and closeted, in other words just reinforcing the popular narrative.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:19 AM on November 8, 2011


You know who else has been living with HIV/AIDS for 20 years? One of my best friends. He is not wealthy, but he does have some kind of sorta-insurance, and he receives ADAP benefits, which helps him effectively manage his condition for the most part. He's also not an "ideal" patient; he's one of those guys who still lives in shame because of his disease, which kills me a little bit whenever I think of it. Because of the shame he's reluctant to address issues that crop up — like the mystery sores and the bumps under his skin that suddenly appear without warning (while we're laughing, watching Project Runway, and carving pumpkins) and take his mood someplace I don't like to dwell. It's a real party-killer when that happens.

I would love to be able to say, "That kind of shame is so 1980s, and we're beyond that," but I can't say that because I've known others who were similarly unable to deal with the social implications of HIV/AIDS. It seems to me that people don't really talk about this part of it so much anymore, as if it's a thing of the past, but good god, only 20 years ago it seems MOST people thought it was some sort of an abomination (!) and that it was dangerous to even be in the same room with "one of them." Ugh. My friend mentions his disease maybe once a year, and we're longtime friends, very close, see each other almost daily. It almost never comes up in conversation, even when he's ill in the hospital and I'm there visiting him.

Some weeks/months are better than others. This is a relatively very good week for my friend. His bumps have disappeared (one of them looked like there was a marble under his skin, and the one three inches away from that one looked like a little red berry just sitting on his arm... who the fuck knows... his doctor had no clue what that was, which always freaks me out; they just always say "HIV-related skin condition"), and he just told me yesterday that his viral load is down to practically nothing, and his CD4 count, the number that we want to see high, is high like an uninfected person's! Yay! And all the other disease/STI tests came back negative! Good news all around! Of course, the whole time he's telling me this, his skin is crawling, and he's wriggling around, sort of scratch-rubbing, trying to get some relief from the persistent HIV-related eczema that they apparently don't make a cream for. I mean, they always give him these little (always tiny, expensive) tubes of shit to deal with it, but nothing really works.

But hey, the eczema's an order of magnitude better than what happened to him last February, when nearly all his beautiful, dark brown skin peeled away and came off his body in little flakes over the course of about four days. That was a sight. He'd get up out of his hospital bed to pee (think: Pigpen walking around in his little cloud of dust), and there was flaked skin lying on the crisp, white sheets in the shape of a person; it might have been funny had it not been so fucking horrifying. We joked at the time that it'll be like he's gone to the spa for a full-body chemical peel, and he'll look smooth-as-a-baby's-ass beautiful when it's over, but really we were just bracing for what was next... another bout of shingles, perhaps? Because shingles were fun. That must have lasted for more than a year, easily. He still has giant dark marks on his skin from that; there were extremely painful lesions that took FOREVER to heal up. And the one that affected his EYE! Oh, god. Oh god oh god, oh god. But he came through it, and he didn't lose the sight in his eye, which was nothing short of miraculous, and we were happy for that. And it didn't invade his brain, which you know... also good! So with giant, weeping sores on his body, he just ... I dunno, struggled through it. They sure didn't keep him in the hospital for long, because you know... no insurance.

A good day for him is one during which he doesn't have diarrhea and isn't vomiting from the med cocktail, which he takes religiously, thanks to his partner who plunks it down in front of him twice daily. For all this, he's a pretty active guy, and you probably would never guess he's even sick if you met him, but he just has a mental block about taking his meds. I'm guessing that the fact that they make him barf on a regular basis is part of that avoidance thing. But mostly it's because he contracted this terribly shameful, deadly, naughty disease in the 80s, and part of him will always be thinking, "Welp, time to die." If it weren't for his partner constantly paying close, nagging attention to his disease, he wouldn't be here. It's frightening. What really sucks is that he's like a brother to me, and it's none of my business. I can't even talk to him about managing his healthcare, although I would LOVE to. I talk to his partner, but mostly his partner likes to avoid talking about it because it involves thinking about the love of his life dying. It's fucking hard, man. Whenever the itching ramps up to the point at which I'm seeing it happen this week, it's an indication that some fresh hell is just around the corner. His partner and I can only look at each other and silently share the panic. We know his numbers are good today, but we've been there before, and yeah... the crazy itching and the lousy moods are always an indicator that things are about to go pear-shaped.

So yeah, people are living longer, which is fantastic. And Magic Johnson is awesome; really, thank heavens for him. And I guess I just needed to vent something I don't normally have the opportunity to talk about. This disease is so many different colors of fucked up. I really, really hate it.
posted by heyho at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2011 [15 favorites]


[Comment removed. Maybe think twice or thrice about how scathingly sarcastic use of slurs will be interpreted by folks who don't know what your intent is.]
posted by cortex at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2011


Fair enough, cortex. So what I was trying to say is that when Magic Johnson was diagnosed in 1991, over 25,000 Americans had already died of AIDS. But because those dead people were mostly viewed as "faggots" in the eyes of ignorant, hateful people, they didn't really count.

It's natural for people to dismiss disease in "the other" as not being relevant to them. It's also immoral. To be fair to Magic Johnson his public persona has been great for AIDS research and support and he's been careful to avoid politicizing language about "innocent victims" and the like. He's done a lot of good. But I'm still intensely bitter about the US response to the AIDS crisis until the early 1990s and it's a bit painful to be reminded that it took a straight guy getting sick before a lot of people gave a damn.
posted by Nelson at 10:37 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


(And I misread that chart: 25,000 people died in 1991 alone. I don't have stats on hand but the cumulative death toll in 1991 looks to have been around 100,000.)
posted by Nelson at 10:39 AM on November 8, 2011


FRONTLINE ran some segments of an interview with Magic yesterday. It's good, and even contains parenting advice.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2011


OmieWise: "It's not pretty good if you're on the waiting list and you have to wait in line for years to get a medication that you need to be taking daily to live."

Well, no, that's how statistics work. But anytime anything isn't 100%, it really sucks to be the person in the other x%. (In this case ~98.7% of people are covered.)


One last comment on this -- the fact that only 6,489 people are on wait lists in 12 states (pdf) does NOT in any way imply that all the rest of the people living with HIV in the US are in health care or on meds or in any way covered. An estimated third of all people living with HIV in the US are not in care.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:57 AM on November 8, 2011


An estimated third of all people living with HIV in the US are not in care.

That's true, but a huge number of people who are covered aren't taking their meds, and that's not something to blame on the ADAP program either. My point above was that talking as if treatment is only available for the rich not only misrepresented the truth, it may well discourage those who know they're HIV positive but have no insurance from seeking care. It may be true that were test-and-treat more widely implemented ADAP wait lists would get much longer, but it may not be true. I know in DC we were advertising to increase the ADAP rolls.
posted by OmieWise at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agreed that treatment is indeed available for many of those who aren't rich, but not sure that misrepresenting the truth in the other direction is doing any favors either.

We do have a better safety net for people living with HIV in the US than for most other health conditions, and I am very proud to have worked on Ryan White reauthorization since it was first passed. It's an amazing model of how to try to fill the gaps in our health care system. It does not, however, cover everyone or everything, nor is everyone in the US eligible for what it provides. It's not even a national program per se, but a set of grants to states and cities and organizations across the country, each of which does slightly different things with it.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:17 AM on November 8, 2011


Really, the first comment has to be a sideswipe at Johnson?

He's done good things with his wealth and fame. It's not his fault poor people also get AIDS.
posted by spitbull at 1:58 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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