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'Dying' Man's Journey in Life, Health, and Service - Part 1

This is Part 1 of 20...

Health activist and social development pioneer David Patient (left) poses with actor and humanitarian Brad Pitt (right) during a community project in Africa. 

Mainstream research communities throughout the world were just beginning to acknowledge Health Psychology and Medicine as interrelated fields of study in 2004.

In that same year, my mentors, David Patient and Neil Orr, published the book, The Healer Inside You: Using PNI (psychoneuroimmunology) mind-body-science to help heal your body.

On his twenty-second birthday in 1983, co-author David Patient was told that he was rapidly dying from a terminal immuno-deficiency disease. Doctors would later come to refer to the disease as HIV/AIDS.

The Western medical community worked frantically to identify the causes of HIV contraction and transmission and to find a cure. While waiting for answers, thousands of people around the world, including newborn babies and health care workers would die from the disease.

Patient was devastated by his diagnosis and by the sudden loss of so many friends.

Already suffering from depression, he initially planned to kill himself before the disease could kill him. Just before following through with this morbid mission, however, he experienced a moment of satori, or epiphany.

Patient realized that, in addition to his own deeper desire to live, the disease (which he had come to call Mr. Virus) also wanted to live. Patient decided that he and Mr. Virus would have to work out an agreement.

While the medical prognosis was still ominous, Patient suddenly felt a sense of hope. Although the doctors, in 1983, had initially told him he probably had about six months to live, Patient went on to become one of the longest living persons with HIV in the world (eventually dying in 2017 of other causes).

When I met Patient in 2013, he made a statement unlike anything I had ever heard from a person living with illness:

“To become infected, you have to invite HIV into your body,” he said during a Peace Corps training in Mpumalanga, South Africa.

What Patient meant is that our bodies are designed for survival. Our natural human design is intelligent and organized beyond belief, and if we can learn how to support this natural design with our lifestyles, then we increase our chances of retaining immune resilience, health, and wellness.

If we live in ignorance or disrespect of our natural design, then we damage our physiological systems, weaken our immunity, and thereby invite sickness into our lives.

One of the reasons Patient was able to live another thirty-four years beyond his initial “death sentence” was that he learned about the impact of psychological health on physical health (mind-body-science).

Health researcher and co-author of The Healer Inside You, Neil Orr, is a psycho-neuro-immunologist, still living and working in South Africa today. He studies the effect of the psyche on the neurological and immune systems of the body. His list of credentials and achievements in global health research is extensive. He and Patient have collaborated as consultants on United Nations projects in the third world. Those stories will come later in this series. For now, let us connect some of the dots between mind-body-science, using David Patient’s real life as an example.

Patient referred to himself as a “problem child.” He was born in 1961 in either Zambia or the Central African Republic, to unidentified parents. His birth records were destroyed by fire when Zambia gained its independence. He was later adopted by a British couple and relocated to South Africa.

As a child, Patient was hyperactive with Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia. He was diagnosed by psychiatrists as a “social misfit ... destined for prison.”

As a child, Patient was hyperactive with Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia. He was diagnosed by psychiatrists as a “social misfit ... destined for prison.”

As one can imagine, such menacing diagnoses and predictions for his life instilled a nagging sense of being unloved, unaccepted, and unworthy within young David Patient.

But Patient was also emotionally sensitive, with a humanitarian spirit, and a healthy skepticism towards bigotry and unethical authority figures.

As a teen, Patient’s public anti-Apartheid statements against the Apartheid government in South Africa made him a person-of-interest to the Bureau of State Security.

At age eighteen, Patient avoided arrest by being shipped to Europe. He would later land in the United States, where he relied on drug abuse to numb the agonizing emotional pain of feeling like an unloved “misfit.” This lifestyle persisted until sometime shortly after his 1983 HIV diagnosis and medical “death sentence.”

Choosing to stay alive against the odds required that Patient not only clean-up his body, but also heal his mind and spirit.

It was time for him to dive deeply into education on mind-body-science. It was also time to take responsibility for the choices he had available to change the trajectory of his life.

Patient not only helped himself, but he spent the next thirty-four years improving the lives of thousands of people worldwide. Amid the current global health crisis, Patient’s legacy is as relevant today as it was decades ago.

To be continued...


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