Resolute survivor defies Aids 'terror': Celia Hall meets a courageous patient who has lived with the disease for over six years

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The Independent Online
JAMES ANDERSON likes to describe himself as a devout coward. The truth is different.

An expert in international security and terrorism, he chose to specialise in Peru and survived an assassination attempt by the Shining Path, the Maoist guerrillas. Today, aged 40, he is the longest- surviving Aids patient at St Thomas's Hospital, London, and says that he has every intention of dying from old age.

He does not know when he was first infected but he has had Aids for more than six years. Average survival after an Aids diagnosis is around three years.

'Sometimes I look around the hospital and I want to tell people to pull themselves together and get on with their lives. All this terror and mystery surrounding Aids, all the misconceptions does no one any good. I see no reason why people with Aids should not be regarded in exactly the same way as people with cancer. People are terrified of Aids just as they were of cancer, 40 years ago.'

He was diagnosed five-and-a- half years ago but it is clear from his medical history that he had already had the virus for a year.

'I became very ill with violent stomach pains and my glands swelled up. They thought it was an appendicitis but I was too ill for them to operate. In the end it all calmed down after a day or so,' Mr Anderson said. He does not believe in being in hospital for any longer than absolutely necessary, and discharged himself.

'They pussy-footed around. At one point a consultant had asked me very diffidently if I was gay. I could not imagine what that had to do with me being ill.' Mr Anderson was not given an Aids test.

He was then 'perfectly fit' for a year when, feeling very ill with a chest complaint, he went to see his GP. His doctor guessed that he had the Aids-related Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and referred him to St Thomas's.

Mr Anderson said: 'I think I had guessed myself. I did allow myself to feel extremely sorry for myself for 48 hours. Then I decided to give myself a very long project. So I sat down and wrote a 700-page reference book.'

Mr Anderson, an Oxford graduate, was already looking for a different path. He decided to turn to his knowledge and love of music. The book, a Dictionary of Opera and Operetta, was published in 1989 and he has just completed a revision.

Within 12 months he had another bout of PCP. Now he takes pentamadine every two months as a preventive against such attacks.

'I have always been completely open about Aids and I am lucky - I have not suffered hostility. Better public education, better understanding generally, will definitely contribute to people who have it living longer,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)