Life with HIV for 34 years I The remarkable David Ross Patient dies

David Ross Patient (Facebook)

David Ross Patient, one of the longest-infected HIV survivors and activists in South Africa and a member of the LGBT community, has passed away.

On Friday, Patient’s partner Neil Orr announced on Facebook: “I regret to inform you that David Patient left us at 10:30pm on the 22nd September 2017. He developed pneumonia after surgery, and his heart stopped.

“I want to thank you all for the chats he shared with you, the jokes, the sharing of information – it was his pleasure to check for what everyone had to say, every day. He brought many things to this world, including humour, compassion, and yes, at times a bit of bite. He cared. Goodbye David.”

The Zambia-born Patient was brought up in South Africa from the age of six. In 1983, while living in the US, he was diagnosed with GRIDS, which was then what HIV was called. It’s believed that he’d become infected sometime in the 1970s.

At the time of his diagnosis, there had only been 1500 reported cases, half of which had already died. Given what was then effectively a death sentence, Patient considered committing suicide but then had an epiphany:

“Someone had to bear witness about a time when there was a disease called HIV; why could it not be me? Natural disasters, holocausts, genocides, there are always a handful of folks who survive; I was determined to be one of those people. That was the beginning of my own self-empowerment and ‘growing a pair!’” he told Brand South Africa in 2014.

Against all odds, he survived for 34 years, of which 22 were without any antiretroviral therapy.

Patient was studied by the world’s top HIV scientists and research organisations over the years in a bid to understand his remarkable resistance to the virus. He returned to South Africa in 1995, and only started antiretroviral treatment in 2004.

Patient was an HIV / AIDS activist and educator, not only campaigning for awareness, testing and treatment, but also speaking out against the stigma and discrimination faced by those living with HIV.

He strongly believed that one’s attitude and an empowered and informed approach to living with HIV played a major role in how well HIV positive people fared.

“Very few things can anger me more than when people describe me as an ‘AIDS Sufferer’ or “AIDS Victim’, because I am neither,” wrote Patient on his website. “I can only become a victim or sufferer when I allow HIV to take over my mind and soul. I live with HIV and AIDS, in my body. My mind and soul are not infected with HIV.”

Patient’s death was met with a flood of tributes on his Facebook page, with many fondly remembering the bravery and humour with which he lived his life

Ines Lopes described him as, “larger than life.. a warrior.. an angel.. a teacher.. motivator.. humanitarian and oh boy.. could he tell the funniest jokes.”

“He had many friends throughout South Africa and the world and will be forever known as one of the bravest people ever to come out of South Africa,” wrote Pretoria attorney Coenie Kukkuk.

Gus Cairns added: “The HIV world has lost a great, quirky, gifted, awkward, and inspiring activist. I doubt if we will ever be able to quantify his influence.”

RIP David Ross Patient.

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