James Bender was a Navy sailor. One night in Florida in the
1980s he met two female prostitutes, one of whom left him
with a lifelong reminder of their encounter. Believing AIDS
was a disease for gay white men, he hadn’t worn a condom. A
weeks-long fever in 1987 led to an AIDS diagnosis.
Now a longtime AIDS survivor, Bender, 51, has endured
his share of struggles. The harsh early drugs that saved his
life also contributed to a heart attack, osteoporosis, and neu-
ropathy, a nerve-deadening condition of the hands and feet.
Since he began HAART, Bender has come down with the
age-linked maladies diabetes, glaucoma, and an enlarged
heart. That’s because even when HIV is controlled with
drugs, it still accelerates the body’s aging process. The aver-
age 55-year-old with HIV has three chronic conditions—the
same number as a 75-year-old who is HIV-negative. Within
three years of infection, certain cells vital to the immune
system age by as much as 20 to 30 years, a recent UCLA study
found. Three U.S. research groups are collaborating to devise
guidelines for treating older HIV/AIDS patients.
Baltimore-based writer Michael Anft is senior writer for science
and medicine at Johns Hopkins Magazine.