“In Michael’s footsteps” is the title of this, the first of a series of articles in a series, dedicated to Michael Onstott
Little did I know that when I moved to Sonoma County that it would be out of the frying pan of San Diego and into the fire of AIDS central. From the time of Randy Shiltz to the time of Ryan White, I could be found on the fifth floor of San Diego’s UCSD Mercy Hospital, ministering to body and soul of those whose families, friends and in many cases, physicians had deserted them to a disease that ravaged them insidiously from the inside, not even showing it’s face for at least a decade.
During that decade, and well into the one that followed, many became refugees of society’s proclivity to prejudice, bias and hate. Indeed, the first persons affected by this new malady were referred to officially as having “G.R.I.D.”, or Gay Related Immune Deficiency, which caused many to believe that this was (primarily or only) a “Gay” disease, and the search for a “causative agent” was off and running.
The world’s epidemiologists began to take notice.
It was suspected by many, including Michael, myself and more than a few now dead microbiologists, genetic engineers and other sensitive scientists, that “the damned thing was engineered. The question that came up over and over invariably boiled down to “How, precisely did a particularly unique genetic sequence, previously found only in the brain tissue of sheep suffering from a brain-rot virus (Visna) get into a Human Thymic Cell Leukemia Virus?”
“Recombinantly, of course”, came the highly educated response to the question.
One suspected vector would be any gay man who participated in the Hepatitis B vaccine development experiments, whose real agenda was transparently and invisibly invoked by a small group of Doctors with intimate connections to AMRIID, NIH and the DOD.
Every city which hosted a cohort of these experimental vaccine production trials using human subjects as volunteers in double blind controlled multivariate generational studies were the cities that would prove to be cradles for the new affliction.
Some, but not all, called that “mere coincidence”. Before anybody could say “nucleoside analogue”, “THEY” (and future articles will outline in detail who ‘they’ are) decided that 38 previously separately diagnosable conditions would be lumped together, called a “syndrome” and attributed to a single causative agent.
What does any of this have to do with Michael? Well, for starters, he was one of the only human beings with whom I could have a highly technical conversation and not have to stop and explain a term, or a word. He KNEW about that which I spoke regardless of the technicality, sophistication or difficulty of the subject matter. And he treated me with dignity and respect, showed an active interest in the etiology of HIV.
He also founded the AIDS Nutrient Bank, dedicated to providing free and low cost vitamins, supplements and nutritional support to persons living with HIV, whether symptomatic or not, and based on a sliding scale. This expanded to become the National AIDS Nutrient Bank, which became a nationwide model for nutritional approaches to what is now called “Complimentary Alternative Medicine”, particularly with respect to persons living with HIV.
At the time, at least until 1995, “dying with HIV” was the case more often than not. Because of this, Michael was tireless, unstoppable and eloquently outspoken when it came to research, outcomes, quality of life and its improvement, and keeping the average Joe up to date with the latest research, results and more importantly, what that meant for different people dealing with various aspects of life with HIV.
Because HIVers take so many different meds, try so many different non Western approaches and avail themselves of promising but untried treatments, it became obvious to doctors, care practitioners and pharmacists, that the interactions between these needed to be clearly understood so that they could be used safely together or ruled out completely.
He helped develop guidelines for the evaluation of labeling information, safety profiles, health claims, consumer outreach and education, funding and resource allocation if proponents thereof had anything to do with treating AIDS/HIV or ameliorating the side effects of Nucleoside analogues, non nucleosides, and other meds used to treat conditions that arise when HIV must be treated.
Michael kept up with and on top of these issues for us, and wrote about them regularly in local publications as well as presenting to Forums ranging from the Sonoma County Commission on AIDS to International AIDS Conferences.
Following in Michael’s footsteps would have been very difficult, costly and time consuming in the days before the internet. But the web has recorded and stored a record of every time he typed his name, and that record is there for anyone and everyone to read for themselves.
In the meantime, a group of highly dedicated people, intent on keeping the nutrient bank able to continue to provide no/low cost vitamins, minerals and HIV specific supplements to clients has begun the task of filling his shoes. Thanks to them, there has been no discontinuity of service to the clients of the ANB. Thanks to volunteers, staff, the good folks at Source Naturals, NOW vitamins and Jarrow and interested readers like yourselves, we are poised to qualify for a study grant, which will be provided by the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine which is just one of the 27 Institutes at the National Institutes of Health.