When Maurice Greenham became one of Britain’s first HIV patients he was told that he’d probably be dead within six months.
Thirty years later – despite developing AIDS and getting a second death sentence – he’s in excellent health and still going strong at the age of 72.
Maurice was diagnosed in July 1984, just three months after scientists discovered the killer virus. “I was devastated,” he said. “It made me so angry. I thought ‘why me?’” He had just returned from a trip to America with his then-boyfriend.
Feeling poorly, he went to a clinic. Having recently finished a marathon in under four hours, he didn’t imagine anything was seriously wrong.
HIV tests had only just become available but while his boyfriend’s came back negative, Maurice, then 42, was horrified to learn he’d contracted the virus from a previous partner. He said: “They said I had six months to live, possibly more. But no one knew what ‘more’ meant.
“At the time I was in love, I thought I was invincible. I’d just got my dream job as a stage manager at my local theatre and I thought it was all going to be taken away from me.”
This week is the 30th anniversary of the virus’s discovery. To date, over 130,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK. Of these, over 27,000 have developed AIDS and more than 20,000 have died.
But in the early days, before advances in treatment, death was seen as almost inevitable. Maurice recalls: “We’d seen so many people around us dying. When the film star Rock Hudson died in 1985 I thought that would be me.”
And life, while precious, wasn’t easy for an HIV patient then. Maurice, who’d previously worked as a teacher, had hoped he was moving into an industry where his sexuality would be accepted.
But fear of AIDS meant people living with HIV found themselves treated with contempt and revulsion. So Maurice, of Stoke-on-Trent, kept his diagnosis secret from all but his closest friends.
“It was horrible,” he says. “People would refuse to work with HIV-sufferers, they didn’t want to touch them or even talk to them.”
And although his family knew he was gay, he couldn’t bear to reveal his illness to his mum Ada. For the next 10 years he had no symptoms.
But in 1994 his health took a turn for the worse. “The virus had got into my brain and was causing dementia,” he explains. He was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with AIDS, the more severe stage of the disease.
Then, for the second time, he was told he had six months left to live. “I’d kept it a secret for so long and I thought, well, it’s all going to come out now,” he said.
He was put on a combination of drugs to slow down the disease but believed the end was close. “It was terrifying. My mum had already lost one son – my brother Derrick – to pneumonia when we were younger. I couldn’t stand putting her through it again.”
The six-month point came and went but the fear and pain did not. Maurice lived the next 18 months in agony as the side-effects of the drugs ravaged his body.
In 1996 he blew a load of cash on what he calls his ‘Farewell Tour’ of Spain. “There’s nothing like the threat of imminent death to focus the mind,” he says. “I started to work on my bucket list.”
But to everyone’s amazement, he started to get better. Three decades later his body is still holding the virus at bay.
Although technically his AIDS diagnosis still stands, Maurice reckons he’s in better health than many of his peers. “Back in the 90s I was taking a suitcase-load of drugs every day. Now I just take two pills a day.”
Maurice plays the organ in his church and writes for Staffordshire Buddies, an HIV charity that helped him through his illness. “If you’d asked me 30 years ago, I’d never have believed I’d still be here, but here I am,” he said.
Story via the Mirror
for well-being news and info or