A Dangerous Connection: Ryan's Fight Against Burkitt's Lymphoma and AIDS

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This two-part article was written exclusively for LymphomaInfo.net by Laura Kopp, whose brother, Ryan, is battling both Burkitt's lymphoma and AIDS. The diagnoses were a shock to Ryan and his family, and treatment has been a dangerous, complicated road. In this article, Laura writes about her brother’s experience and shares what they have learned from it and want others to know.

On April of 2013, my brother, Ryan, was building the life he wanted. After leaving a difficult relationship and searching for deeper meaning in his life, he was living in the bustling city of Columbus, Ohio, with a job that he loved and a "family" of friends who supported him in all he did.

Accidental Discovery

After tripping over a piece of equipment at work and hitting his head, Ryan visited the local ER as a requirement of his company's workers' compensation policy. As part of the routine evaluation process for head injuries, an MRI was ordered to rule out a closed-head trauma.

The results of the MRI revealed a large mass and several lesions in the skull and sinus cavity. As anyone who has been through the diagnostic process knows, the words "mass" and "lesions" are some of the most terrifying words in the medical dictionary.

The Endless Testing Continues

Further tests were ordered, including more imaging through PET and CAT scans, exhaustive blood work and an eventual biopsy of the mass in Ryan's skull. Blood tests revealed low blood counts (both white and red blood cells) and a low platelet count. As part of the diagnostic process, more blood tests were required, including one for HIV.

As a homosexual male, Ryan was diligent about undergoing HIV testing every six months. Following the breakdown of his most recent relationship, his testing schedule became more sporadic, with his last test having been done approximately a year and a half prior to this hospital stay.

Finding the Link

The preliminary diagnosis following the biopsy was lymphoma. The next goal was to determine the type of lymphoma (Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s), staging and location throughout the body. It was at this same time that Ryan was informed that he was HIV positive.

Not only was he positive, but due to his current CD4 counts (healthy immune cells), he was diagnosed with AIDS. An adult with a healthy immune system has a CD4 count of about 1,500. An individual who is HIV positive would have fewer healthy cells as a result of the viral infection.

A diagnosis of AIDS is given to those who are HIV positive and have a CD4 count of less than 200. At the time of his diagnosis, Ryan's CD4 count was 4. As a family member with limited medical knowledge but unlimited access to the Internet, I began doing my own research. To me, knowledge is power.

In Part II of this article, Laura discusses how Ryan's lymphoma came about as a result of his AIDS diagnosis, how treatment is affecting him and how knowledge is an essential part of lending support.

Visit the Ryan's Hope Facebook page to lend your support and stay updated on Ryan's progress.

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