My Story

My Story
by Nelson Vergel
from Volume 2, Issue No. 1

Nelson answers questions at
Outsmart interview and article about Nelson.
City of Houston's Nelson Vergel Day proclamation, 9/13/01.

Nelson VergelI remember when I was eight years old and I asked my mother what cancer was. She gave me the best explanation she could find without alarming me. I also remember having said: "If I ever get cancer when I am older, I am going to live life to the fullest, travel, and do something big before I die!" I don't know why I still remember that. Maybe, it was self-prophesy. Later in life, I ended up not getting cancer, instead I found out I was HIV-positive in 1987, when I was 28. I'd returned home to Venezuela after a visit to the U.S. when I developed the worst flu I could remember, that lasted for a full month. Finding out it was caused by HIV left me grieving for days. I decided that if I was going to die, I would explore all possibilities on how to stay healthy.

I was extremely hungry for medical information. I subscribed to ten of the best AIDS newsletters in the country to keep myself updated. I was still working full time as a chemical engineer back then, but I knew from several research studies on psychoimmunology that those with a life purpose tend to live longer. I knew being a chemical engineer was not what I wanted on my obituary, so I started an earnest search for my real life purpose, something that would fill me with passion.

As time went by, I became more and more symptomatic. Diarrhea, anxiety attacks, thrush, skin problems and other ailments became common struggles for me. I knew that I could not continue just doing what my doctors said, that I had to go beyond that if I wanted to stay alive. I enrolled in a study of AZT, but found out that I was on a placebo (sugar pill), since my T-cells kept dropping. I was also losing weight and energy. This is when I was transferred to Los Angeles from Houston (1990).

I knew that there were more possibilities to learn more about alternative therapies in Los Angeles. I was excited and scared at the same time since I knew no one there. Because of the tremendous variety in LA, I began to experiment with any therapy that seemed logical. I started to do megadoses of vitamins and supplements, and started to watch my diet for food allergies that would hurt my immune system. My health started improving, however, my weight was still decreasing (I used to weigh 165 lbs. and I was down to 148 lbs. then). As I was starting to become more "eclectic" about my health care, I become a person who used the best the pharmaceutical world and the holistic world had to offer. Many of my friends who were HIV+ were against using anti-virals, since they thought their use wasn't worth the side effects. I was fortunate to use them without any problems. I also realized that this virus is a very smart one. Switching therapies every 6 months or so would probably prevent a lot of the problems associated with viral resistance (mutations) and side effects due to long term use of anti-virals.

One day, one of my friends in L.A. called me to say that they had gone to a seminar about the use of anabolic steroids for AIDS. That was summer of 1992. I remember saying. "Steroids are supposed to be bad for you!" I remember all I had read about the abuse and misuse of anabolic steroids, about "roid rage" and about how you could get cancer and liver problems, etc. My friends in L.A. insisted that the seminar speaker sounded like he knew what he was saying, and that this was probably a good option to reverse my weight loss and improve my quality of life. I was very skeptical, but in the back of my mind a little ray of hope started to shine through.

We decided that we were going to do it. We tried finding a doctor who would prescribe them, but couldn't find one (months later we found out that Dr. Walter Jekot and Dr. Barry Chadsey in L.A. were already giving anabolic steroids to their patients). My friends began inquiring about dealers who could bring anabolics from Mexico. I also asked my family in Venezuela to get me some testosterone cypionate and Deca Durabolin (they are over the counter items there!!).

I was very worried about the fact that we were doing something potentially risky without any guidance, but without a doctor to help we had to do it ourselves. We bought every bodybuilding magazine possible. They all criticized the use of anabolics and "pushed" their supplements as steroid replacements. We came across one that had an ad for Bill Phillips' "Anabolic Reference Guide". I ordered it and also received a subscription to the radical bodybuilding magazine Muscle Media 2000.

It took me a few days to devour Bill Phillips' book. I found it extremely helpful. However, I was still worried that there was nothing there about the potential benefits or risks of anabolic steroid use on the immune system. I remember talking to my friends about trying to find a person who would know more about that matter. Hopefully, it would be a person who was HIV+ and maybe a researcher or doctor.

My first issue of Muscle Media 2000 arrived. I read it hungrily. To my surprise and delight, there was an article there written by an HIV+ doctor named "Dr. X"! This doctor had gotten out of his "death bed" and regained 40 pounds and his health back by using anabolic steroids! I called my friends in L.A. and told them that we had to get through to this Dr. X guy. My friend Preston spent the next two days networking on the phone. He called me back with the good news - he had found Dr. X's phone number. I did not hesitate to call him. He returned my call and we talked for an hour. His real name was Michael Dullnig, M.D. He was a psychiatrist on disability. What a delightful, smart, passionate man! I became his number one fan. We would talk for hours every week to share our experiences. He was writing a book about his program. I told him I was looking for a "life purpose" and that I was willing to volunteer some time to help him in any way to spread this information. Meanwhile, I was gaining good lean body mass - I put on 35 pounds during the next year! My immune response also improved - my CD8 cells, which may be one of the most important barometers for longevity for PWA's, went from 900 to 2500 cells/mm3, and my symptoms disappeared! I never felt or looked better in my entire life, even when I was HIV-negative!!

I was fortunate to have started the program while my T-cells were still over 200 cells/mm3. Dr. Dullnig started the anabolic steroids when his T-cell count had already dropped to 10 cells /mm3 (normal range seems to be 1000-1500 cells/mm3). Even though he was able to live another good full year with his new quality of life, he eventually developed CMV retinitis ( a viral infection that attacks the retina and makes people lose their sight). He called me to say that he could not stand the thought of going blind, and that he would rather die than go through the chemotherapy required to treat that infection. He called me weeks later to say that he had drawn the line and that he was going to end his life the day after (June 1, 1994). I was totally shocked. He said that he was going to accept my offer to help him finish the book and spread this valuable information. He hung up and I spent hours crying in shock. A week later I got 650 pounds of research material via Federal Express that Michael had sent me. I knew my life was never going to be the same after that.

I started to get his fan mail - dozens of letters from all over the world from people who desperately needed help. I realized how truly important the work ahead was. I was still working for Shell Oil, but I couldn't concentrate on my work after that. It took me four months to digest all the information Michael had sent me. Michael also made me promise that I would not wait for the book to be published to spread the information. I decided to create my own agency in Houston called PoWeR - Program for Wellness Restoration. I sold my house. I came out at work as an HIV+ man and told everyone about my new life-purpose. My boss was extremely supportive and told me to do whatever it takes to "find myself". I finally went on permanent disability September, 1994 to be able to devote myself entirely to my new project.

I created a workshop format with over a hundred slides and invited a few experts to join me. One by one they all came to me effortlessly. Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, a world expert on anabolics and sports medicine was the first to join my efforts. Dr. Luke Bucci, author of several books on micronutrients in sports and recovery was soon to follow. Dr. Arlette Pharo, an expert on nutritional assessment techniques also joined us. Dr. Lark Lands, one of the top nutritionists who specializes in HIV disease has also been a great supporter. Then God sent me another Michael to help me in this mission. Michael Mooney, a nutritional expert in Los Angeles who was also independently researching this field, called me after Dr. DiPasquale gave him my phone number. Michael turned out to be a passionate, knowledgeable, and truly concerned individual who is committed to increasing research in this area and to sharing this information with others. He joined me in my travels around the country, and in our efforts to share the information that we think is so important we've collaborated on a 200 page book and several other publications. Without him, my efforts would not be half as effective.

June, 1999 Update

At this time we have had enough impact on HIV reseach and the HIV medical community that over 200 physicians are now employing treatment programs that include some or all of the comprehensive program we have created, so thousands of HIV-positive people have benefited. Dozens of AIDS agencies in the U.S. and in Canada and Latin America have used our services as seminar speakers; we have collectively given over 250 seminars. I have designed two multi-factorial research protocols to test our program on males and females while using proper nutrition and resistance weight training. Michael and I have written the book, Built To Survive (It is finally at the printers right now for release within two months.)

We also presented our protocol at the XI International AIDS Conference in Vancouver in July of 1996 and at the II International Conference on Nutrition and HIV in Cannes, France (April 97). We have been quoted or had articles in AIDS Treatment News, Sports Illustrated, POZ, European AIDS Treatment News, and Positively Aware, and interviewed on several radio programs. Michael has published some of our information in a regular column that he had for two years in the bodybuilding magazine Muscle Media 2000. In July of 1998 we opened a one-of-a-kind "one-stop" Wellness Center in Houston with another agency (Body Positive) to provide free or subsidized supervised weight training, nutritional counseling, body composition analysis, massage therapy, and other services to those HIV+ individuals with limited income. We have an advisory board with very distinguished doctors and researchers who are experts in clinical applications and research in wasting and nutritional medicine. I served for two years on the Metabolic Disorders Committee at the AIDS Clinical Trails Group (ACTG) in Washington, the largest HIV/AIDS research organization in the world. We also co-sponsored the first International Conference on AIDS Wasting in Ft. Lauderdale (Nov. 1997). It amazes me how much the two of us have been able to do with very little funding!

We hope that as time goes by more and more people will realize how important this work is, especially now, in the era of the new protease inhibitors, when people are living longer and want to take better care of themselves. Wasting is not a thing of the past. Recent data show that over 50% of patients are failing protease inhibitors and many are still losing lean body mass.

We have never charged for our work and our seminars are free to the community. No matter what, I feel that I can honestly say that we will never give up. With communications from numerous HIV+ people thanking us for helping them get their lives back, we both find this to be the most rewarding experience of our lives. I wish that everyone who has benefited from this work could return something to the world by helping to spread our message to others who need it.

The information that you will find on our web sites, and in our printed materials is a great avenue for us to share with you what we've found in our search for more effective and healthy ways to enhance lean body mass (LBM), decrease lipodystrophy, improve overall quality of life and productivity in this critical illness. There's a lot that I want to share with you about the wealth of information that we continue to gather on the subject of nutrition, supplementation, anabolics hormones, and exercise.

Peace and Good Health!

Nelson Vergel
Email address:

return to home page | contact us