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Surviving HIV
13 Years After Archie Harrison's Death, a Story of Life

Start streaming audio Listen to Patricia Neighmond's report for All Things Considered.

Aug. 20, 2001 -- Two decades ago, the first reported cases of a so-called "gay cancer" were published in medical journals. The disease would later be called AIDS, and the virus that causes AIDS would be called HIV.

Patricia Neighmond original series of reports:

Jan. 16, 1987 -- "Making every moment count"

Jan. 22, 1987 -- A part in a play about AIDS

July 13, 1987 -- Embracing holistic healing, and AZT

Aug. 20, 1987 -- Archie fights pneumonia and nausea

Dec. 29, 1987 -- "Devoting myself to things I care about"

April 28, 1988 -- Drew: "The apartment was filled with his pain"

July 1, 1988 -- "If I had only been less promiscuous"

Aug. 9, 1988 -- In memorium: "My body is worn out"

In 1987, NPR began a series of reports documenting the effectiveness of the first AIDS drug, AZT, which inhibits the ability of the virus to make copies of itself. The drug proved to be both toxic to patients and largely ineffective -- a fact that wasn’t known when NPR first aired its reports.

One of the first patients treated with AZT was Archie Harrison, a young man from New York. NPR reporter Patricia Neighmond’s eight reports on Harrison’s battle with the disease ended on Aug. 8, 1988, the day Harrison died.

His partner Drew Tillotson was at Harrison’s side when he died, and was himself HIV positive. But unlike the vast majority of people infected with the virus, Tillotson showed no symptoms of AIDS, and received no treatment.

Drew Tillotson
Drew Tillotson is now a psychotherapist living in San Francisco.
Photo courtesy Drew Tillotson

Thirteen years later, Neighmond caught up with Tillotson in San Francisco, where he now lives, to talk about his life after Archie’s death, the science of long-term HIV survivors, and the medical and cultural changes surrounding AIDS over the past 20 years.

Tillotson’s experience with Harrison inspired him to become a psychologist dealing with people with HIV. He says the experience of watching the disease take the life of his lover -- and the fact that he is HIV positive -- still haunt him.

"I'm living day to day, doing my thing," he told Neighmond. "In the background, you know that there is evil lurking."

Web Resources:

Drew Tillotson's Web site at

AIDS timeline from NPR's special report on the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS