Gay, proud - and silent?

Living with Aids: defying the odds

Nobody knew much about Aids when Christopher Keegan was diagnosed as having the disease 14 years ago. His doctors in Amsterdam, where he was living, told him he had 18 months to live. His friends sent him home to his family to die. His gay partner committed suicide. But Mr Keegan has defied the odds and is believed to be Britain's longest-surviving person with Aids.

He has just turned 49. Next week, he joins a trial of a drug called Abacavir, or 1592, which is designed to reach the brain more effectively than other HIV drugs. Someone has to take part in trials, he says, or there would be no developments: "I'm not the sort of person who lies in bed, though if somebody had told me what I would have to go through, I would probably have given up then and there."

Positive thinking and avoiding stress have probably contributed as much to his longevity as his medical regime (he takes about 30 tablets a day). Yet the treatment has changed immeasurably since the early days. When he came home, Mr Keegan had a doctor and a "health adviser". Now he has a whole support team at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, and he cannot praise them highly enough for their warmth and skill. He first knew his consultant, Mark Nelson, as a junior doctor.

"When I was first diagnosed, you would tell people you had cancer," he recalls. "It was the days of [medical] people wearing masks, gloves, almost looking like spacemen." He stayed at the London Lighthouse centre for a while, and remembers when people would spit at residents through the railings.

Mr Keegan has come close to losing his life seven times. At one point his T-cell count - cells produced by the immune system and destroyed by HIV - was down to one compared with between 800 and 1,000 in a well person. He named the lone T-cell Terry. "You've got to keep your sense of humour," he says. He gave up sex not long after his diagnosis, because he could not bear the slightest chance of someone else contracting the virus.

He has lost some 60 friends to the disease and is angry that more is not being done to alert people to the risk. "People take so much for granted in life," he says. "When suddenly you're told that you have a certain amount of time to live, every second counts."

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