Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part story. Visit washingtonblade.com for the first installment.
My hope is by sharing my story (which I’ve told to only a few friends) you also might be encouraged to document and share your own story about AIDS. It is our stories that are the heart and soul of the history of AIDS. None should be forgotten. Ever.
It was in 1988 that a friend of mine introduced me to Dr. Walter Jekot, an HIV doctor practicing in Los Angeles. Dr. Jekot knew I was semi-retired — at 24 — and asked if I’d consult with him to help market his sports medicine practice in West Hollywood. The bulk of his patients were gay men, mostly bodybuilders and a few athletes. Why not, I thought. Partying every night was starting to get kind of boring anyway.
One Saturday afternoon, a couple of months into working with Dr. Jekot, two men wearing suits came into his office and closed the door. They stayed for more than three hours. After they left, I went in to ask Dr. Jekot what was going on. As I asked my first question, he just looked up and stared at me. He was ghost white. “What’s wrong,” I asked. “Sit down, Dave,” he replied. “There is something I have to tell you.”
He said the men were his attorneys. “I am being prosecuted by the federal government for what they say is the illegal distribution of anabolic steroids and growth hormone,” he explained. Then he told me his story.
After the 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles, scandal hit the sports world. Ben Johnson, a Canadian sprinter and gold medal winner that year, was to appear at a court hearing that would be broadcast live around the world. The government wanted to find out if Johnson could be prosecuted for cheating because he allegedly took anabolic steroids during the 1988 Olympic Games. During the trial, Johnson’s doctor said that Dr. Jekot had dispensed anabolic steroids to the U.S. Olympic athletes during the same Olympic Games.
Within 15 minutes every news agency in the world was beating down Dr. Jekot’s door, trying to get a comment, demanding an interview. A week later, the assistant attorney general of the United States announced on live television that the Department of Justice was going after Dr. Jekot with every legal resource available to the federal government.
I sat there stunned. I felt betrayed. I got up and started to leave, but he blocked the door. “Wait,” he asked. “There is something else.”
First, he apologized for not telling me sooner. He said he was scared and didn’t know whom he could trust, including his own attorneys. “Did you do it,” I asked. When he said no, I sat down again.
He wanted to tell me something, he said, about a discovery he made, but I had to promise not to tell anyone else. I declined. He told me anyway: “I have discovered that anabolic steroids and growth hormones can help AIDS patients by reversing the wasting process.”
Wasting is the involuntary loss of body weight the entire gay community had seen time and again.
Having a sports management background, I had spent years warning our athletes about the ills of steroids. I was skeptical. In fact, I didn’t believe him. Why should I? But some strange force kept me in that chair listening. I wanted to know more about the discovery that might help AIDS patients.
A month later I asked for and received written permission to have access to the medical records of 13 AIDS patients who were being treated with anabolic steroids or growth hormones for AIDS-related wasting. I also asked to be permitted to interview each patient. All agreed.
It was 1989. After sitting down with each of the 13 patients, I became convinced anabolic steroid treatments worked. I had no idea why or how, but something was keeping these patients alive. They had energy and looked healthy and fit.
Thus began my quest to have the most unpopular and denounced drug in the world become accepted as the therapy to reverse wasting syndrome and bring people back to life. I believe this was, in fact, the first Lazarus Effect treatment. Within three years, anabolic steroids became standard treatment to reverse AIDS-related wasting.