The Impossible Journey of Michael Reinbold — July 23, 2015
Impossible. Impossible is a word that encapsulates many of the experiences Michael Reinbold has had during his long journey living with HIV/AIDS – both his descent into the illness, and his rise above it.
The first impossible thing that Michael Reinbold grappled with in his journey with HIV was his diagnosis itself. Michael got the news he was positive in 1992. To say he was in shock is an understatement.
Michael was persistent about using precaution. Many of his friends were case managers and social workers, and he knew the risks and what to do to keep safe. “I first tested HIV-negative in 1986, and decided that safe sex would be my mantra of practice. Yet just one drunken slip up turned the tables upside down. When my lymph nodes expanded in the back of my neck, I became quite alarmed and tested again, only to hear the dark news,” recalls Michael.
Michael’s HIV diagnosis felt like a death sentence. He knew what it was like to hold a friend in his arms as he died from AIDS-related illness. Michael understood the challenge in front of him, and he vowed to fight on. Unable to connect with a doctor that specialized in HIV, he was at least able to get AZT through his general practitioner. He started treatment.
The Impossible Happens Again
AZT was not a magic bullet though, and over the next two years Michael’s illness worsened. In ’95, the impossible struck again – he began to develop HIV-related dementia far earlier and faster than clinicians thought possible. Over the course of one short month Michael says he “fell apart”.
Aware that something was terribly wrong, he sought help. But it was clear the professionals he relied on weren’t sure what to do. Michael bounced from the ER, to a psych ward and then hospice at the Abbott Hospital in Stevens Square. Unable to work, he was finally admitted to Grace House in May of 1995.
At the time he moved in, no one admitted to Grace House had ever left because they had recovered from AIDS. Grace House, now a Clare Housing Care Home today, truly was a hospice. Those were tough days. “Every month or two, someone would die,” Michael shared during his recent interview with me. “You feel like your number will be up soon, and it was quite frightening.”
During these challenging times Michael found the strength to volunteer during the first Twin Cities-Chicago AIDS Ride in the summer of 1996. There were over 1,600 riders that year. For Michael the emotional effect of seeing so many men and women banding together to support AIDS Service Organizations was profoundly positive.
“From experiencing the deaths of people you know in hospice every other month, to being on the AIDS ride and seeing what the community was doing to support us, it gave me such hope for myself, and for the future of everyone living with AIDS,” Michael says.
After crewing the ride, Michael said to himself, “I’m going to do this.” But that vow seemed like a goal that might be out of his reach.
Finally, Hope Dawns
1996 saw the advent of Protease Inhibitors. For the first time, scientists had done what hadn’t been achieved before – they had found an effective treatment for HIV. Michael began taking the drugs in 1997. It was a game changer for him. He recovered rapidly, and it was that same year that Michael joined Lee Harland as one of the first two people to pack up their bags and leave Grace House because they had regained their health.
A New Name, a New Journey for Michael and the Red Ribbon Ride
In 2000, Michael was back to work, living on his own, and feeling as healthy as he had ever been. It was this year that he made the bold choice to switch from a single time crew member to rider for the Twin Cities-Chicago AIDS Ride on the 500 mile journey. He rode in the last three of those rides. In 2003, the Red Ribbon Ride started when the AIDS Ride was discontinued. He’s been riding this 300 mile journey every year since!
When asked today why Michael still rides, he talks about the visibility that it brings to HIV/AIDS. “The younger generation,” Michael explains, “Doesn’t really have a handle on what’s going on with HIV. I want them to understand how to take care of themselves, and prevent it in the first place.”
The eight AIDS Service Organizations supported by the Red Ribbon Ride are Michael’s other reason for staying with the Ride. “The Ride brings me back because of the community built by these organizations,” Michael says. “I know the aid and support these organizations give because I experienced it first-hand. It’s a tremendous privilege to be healthy and able enough to raise money for them now.”
Michael’s Mission Now: Helping Others Do Their ‘Impossible’
“Now you’re living with it, what are you going to do with your life?” This is the question that Michael would like to ask everyone who’s been diagnosed HIV positive. Michael feels passionately that a big part of being a long term survivor is getting on with your life.
As he puts it, “With all these services, it can be easy to let people take care of you. But as a long term survivor, you have to learn to move on. That’s the message I want to share with my HIV positive brothers and sisters…You have changed, and what you can do may be limited, but you can do something.”
“Spreading this message is why I’m here today,” Michael says. “Being HIV+ is hard, but it’s an incredible opportunity for change, and that’s uplifting. Getting back to work is what I did, and I’m trying to pass that message on to others.”
It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done
Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” When Michael Reinbold was diagnosed with HIV, an effective treatment for HIV seemed impossible. When he began treatment with Protease Inhibitors, the idea that he would ever be healthy enough again to ride an annual 500 or even a 300 mile bike ride seemed impossible.
This past spring, nearly 20 years after being admitted to hospice care at Abbott Hospital, Michael moved back to the building, this time as a resident. The Abbott Hospital building has been renovated into high-end apartments. Twenty years ago, that move would have seemed impossible too. I think we can all look forward to seeing the impossible things that Michael, and the strong and vibrant HIV/AIDS community here in the Twin Cities, gets up to next.
YOU’RE HELPING US DO THE IMPOSSIBLE RIGHT NOW
We have a vision. That vision is to achieve an AIDS-free world through equitable access to housing and healthcare.
You may not fully appreciate it, but you are an important part of making that vision a reality. By reading this article, by educating yourself about the link between stable housing and health and HIV prevention, by sharing that news with your friends and family — you are making this vision a reality.
Step by step, click by click, link by link — the end of AIDS will happen because of education and mobilization.
If you were inspired by Michael’s message, you can make a secure, tax-deductible donation online here. Or, if you can’t donate this month, please share Michael’s inspiring story with your friends on Facebook. Thank you!