Dr. Fauci and my brother Mark

There's something about Dr. Anthony Fauci that bothers me, and I hadn't been able to nail it down until quite recently.  His credentials and prominent position in the medical field would suggest a healer — a man interested in public health as a discipline, as well as the health of each and every member of that public.  But his frequent, and then not so frequent, appearances in press conferences with President Trump displayed a man just a bit too impressed with himself.  He proclaimed that masks aren't necessary; then, a while later, that you must wear your masks.  A published photo of him at a baseball game at the time showed him not wearing a mask while others in the photo had their faces covered.  His explanation that he had merely taken his mask off to take a drink seemed unlikely and hypocritical to me.

Dr. Fauci appeared to be all in on the lockdowns, which were initially going to last two weeks but are ongoing these many months later, crippling previously robust segments of our economy.  He showed little apparent concern for the businesses destined to fail, or the hundreds of thousands of workers who would be left without gainful employment.

What bothered me most, though, was his pushback on what the president termed "fast-tracking" or "warp speed" in the development and usage of therapeutics and vaccines.  I felt that the president's instincts were correct.  If people are very sick and death is a strong possibility, then why not try what is available, even if all the tests had not been run?  Trump was ridiculed for advocating hydroxychloroquine, though it had shown anecdotally to be of value in treating the virus early in its course.  Dr. Fauci did nothing to lessen that ridicule.  It seemed to me that he was enjoying the attention and was reluctant to shorten his time in the limelight.

I just spent several days in the hospital, and because of the COVID-19 restrictions on visitors, I was catching up with family and friends via Facetime.  During a conversation with my sister, she mentioned she had come across an old letter in our late parents' things and thought I might like to see it.  She was right.

Now, let me tell you about my brother, Mark.  He was the fourth of eight children born to Bill and Mary Hansmann in a small Wisconsin village.  Always charming — Mark had a smile for everyone.  He was a top student and graduated from college with a degree in journalism, the editor of his college newspaper.  Always popular, I waited to see what lucky girl would capture my younger brother's heart.  But that was not to be.  Mark had kept a secret from everyone all those years of his youth.  He was gay.

Our mother said that she had always known, but the rest of his family and friends were clueless.

I proudly say that every family member accepted and embraced Mark, but it was a less "woke" time, and small-town, Midwest culture was not quite so accepting of homosexuality.  Mark eventually moved to Seattle, a city more in step with his lifestyle.  He loved it there, although newspaper jobs similar to the ones he had held in Wisconsin were in short supply.  He landed a position as head of communications with a large bank, and all was well.  For a while.

In the early and mid-eighties, many young men in the gay community were afflicted with a strange new disease called AIDS.  It was a horrible time for Mark, newly ensconced in a stable relationship after several years in the gay dating scene.  Friends were being stricken with what was a virtual death sentence, and everyone was holding their breath and praying.  In early 1986, Mark began to suffer from the early symptoms of the disease, and he knew he was in trouble.

My parents tried desperately to save their son.  They were aware that there were drug trials underway and that possible help was on the horizon.  After going through what limited medical channels they could find, they contacted the office of Wisconsin senator William Proxmire.  The senator was extremely helpful and very giving of his time to my mother and father.  When the trial drug AZT began to show some possibility of success in the treatment of AIDS, the senator contacted the National Institute of Health, attempting to gain access to the possible life-saving medication for Mark.  It should be noted that AZT is, to this day, still part of the regimen of drugs that HIV patients consume daily to survive.

At the time, AIDS was a little-understood malady; an auto-immune disease, it manifested itself in a large spectrum of symptoms.  It took a considerable period of time for all of these various symptoms to be classified as being pathognomonic — specifically characteristic of a disease.  For too long, therefore, patients whose symptoms didn't exactly line up with the accepted definition of AIDS were termed victims of ARC or AIDS-Related Complex.  But they did, in fact, have AIDS.  Mark's condition was designated as ARC.

After weeks of back and forth between Senator Proxmire and the NIH, the health institute responded in a letter you can see below.  I can forgive the writer for misspelling our family name by leaving an n off the end, but I can never forgive the actual response, which read in part: "The only reason AZT is being withheld from Mark is because of its possible danger to him — AZT does have some serious side effects[.] ... Without proof that AZT can benefit a particular  patient, scientists do not wish to risk the fragile health of ARC patients and thus prefer to  prescribe an alternate form of medication instead."  Thus, the one therapy that had shown any potential to save my brother's life was denied him.  

That letter, seen below, was signed by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and was dated November 5, 1986.  My brother, Mark Allen Hansmann, died the following day.  He was thirty-five years old.

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