Monday, May 8, 2017

Dr. Richard Hersey (1949-1990): Lobbied for affordable AIDS drugs; Partner of neuroscientist Simon LeVay

Richare Hersey
Plot: 50 
GPS (lat/lon): 37.8339, -122.23381

Richard George Hersey was born in Berkeley on October 9, 1949 in Berkeley, California and graduated from Miramonte High School in Orinda in 1967.

He was an American exchange student in England when he met Simon LeVay, who would go on to become one of the leading researchers about the human brain in the world.

In 1971, while Hersey was completing his studies at the University of California at Berkeley,  LeVay got a job with future Nobel Prize winners David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel at the Harvard Medical School. The couple bought an old Volkswagen Bug and traveled across the country to meet Hersey's parents. In 1972, Hersey went east with LeVay and did some course work at Boston University. He eventually was accepted in the UCLA School of Medicine, so the couple lived on opposite coasts. After medical school, he did his internship at Boston City Hospital and the couple were reunited, living in the Beacon Hill area.

After graduation, the couple were apart again, as Hersey accepted a job as a kidney specialist in New York. In the mid-1980's, Hersey was diagnosed with AIDS, which was a time when the disease was still a death sentence. He started on a regimen of AZT and fought to get the price of the drug down for patients struggling for their life, including himself. 

Richard Hersey's Op-Ed in the NY Times

He penned an Op-Ed for the NY Times and lobbied Congress about the high cost of the drug treatment. He was quoted in an 1987 article in the New York Times, saying "At first, I tried to be unemotional about [my diagnosis]. But there's no question, if you're doing O.K. you start thinking it would be risky to be without [AZT].''

An avid bicyclist, his illness did not prevent him from taking a bike ride in Iceland by himself, as well as rides in the Faroe Islands and in Scotland. When he got too sick to look after himself, he moved to San Diego to be with LeVay, who was working at the Salk Institute. He died at LeVay's home of Kaposi’s sarcom with his partner and father by his side. The couple were together on and off for 21 years and LeVay dedicated his 1993 book The Sexual Brain to Hersey.

Hersey's father published a World War II memoir entitled A Ship with No Name.

SOURCES: My Life - A Personal Sketch by Simon LeVay, The AIDS Reader, edited by Loren K. Clarke, 1967 Miramonte High School yearbook,  Ancestry. com, Find a Grave, New York Times

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