Episode 6: Poster Boy
Where are the people Gary Davis treated with the serum? Why is nobody who took it willing to talk? A very cagey former patient finally agrees to meet with Grant, under several specific conditions: Only if it rains, only if Grant comes to visit him in his very small town, and only if they can talk where no one else can hear them. The stranger finally pulls up in his pickup truck, at a tumbleweed intersection in rural Oklahoma, windows tinted too dark to see him. And his story is even weirder than all the conditions may have suggested.
Serum is a limited run podcast production of WHYY’s The Pulse and Local Trance Media.
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For questions or tips related to Serum, please contact Maiken Scott at email@example.com or Grant Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
SERUM ep. 6
Grant Hill: My time in Tulsa was running short – and I had still not been able to connect with one of the doctor’s patients- somebody Gary Davis successfully treated for HIV with the serum.
Shawn, the doctor’s son – had been trying – but his connections seemed cagey…
Shawn Davis: He was like have you talked to him already? I was like yeah, but not fully but I have. I said if you feel uncomfortable, don’t talk to him. If you feel like you do feel comfortable and you want to, then talk to him.
GH: Apparently – uncomfortable – because my phone stayed silent. I had hoped to meet one former patient specifically – he was really one of the main reasons I had made the trip – but… nothing.
Then just hours before I planned to hit the road…
Tommy Farnsworth (phone call): Good morning.
GH: I got the call I had been waiting for, from a man named Tommy Farnsworth…
TF: Grant…Grant, hold on one second I have to take this call.
GH: Oh yeah, no problem.
GH: Tommy seemed friendly, but pretty on edge. At one point…he warned me…this was very powerful stuff – Said he would only talk with me if we met up in person where he lived…two-and-and-half hours west of Tulsa… and we could only meet up if it rained.
Something about the wheat harvest season…Whatever, I didn’t know.
TF: It’s supposed to rain possibly this evening and tomorrow and Saturday.
GH: I was doubtful our meeting would happen…it was my last day in Oklahoma and not a cloud in the sky…
I was disappointed but I tried to remind myself – I had gotten a lot of great stuff while I was here. Interviews, photos, new documents – and materials – including that mysterious VHS tape I had digitized and hadn’t been able to watch yet…
Then – I got a message from Tommy: “I just talked to a lady and she said rain tonight and all day tomorrow.”
Which I took to mean…come on over.
GH: From WHYY’s The Pulse in Philadelphia and Local Trance Media, this is SERUM. I’m Grant Hill.
GH: That lady predicting the weather was right. We were blasted with thunderstorms overnight. I hear they get even worse later in the summer.
Clouds linger into the morning. My girlfriend Mary and I are out early to get where Tommy told us to meet him…a small farm town he lovingly refers to as Jet, America.
AUDIO FROM CAR
GH: I give Tommy a ring on the way…to make sure everything was still a go.
TF: Yup, come. FADE OUT
GH: All good, he says…but he’s got one of those voices that’s hard to gauge over the phone.
He warns me about coming out all this way again, I may not like what he has to tell me…but he says it all with a laugh…as if to put me at ease. It doesn’t.
He sounds legitimately concerned – as if driving to Jet, hearing his story…was something I couldn’t undo.
GH: I appreciate it. I’m coming with my partner by the way just so you know. Um so-
TF: Yeah, what’s her name?
TF: Mary? Alright. Good enough. I got a big, big turd here for you.
GH: Clyde Ashley Sherman gave me a similar warning in his Lyft the first time he told me about Gary Davis. I laughed it off then. But now, it isn’t so amusing.
TF: When you’re driving in town you’ll see the address around five, 10, that will get you right there by the store… FADE OUT
GH: Tommy says to call him when we get to a store in town. You can’t miss it, he says, it’s like the only one.
TF: There’s a lake three miles north of town, it’s the Great Salt Plains Lake. To the west of the lake, there’s a- you go up there and dig for crystals. They’re flat and you rub them off and hold them up and it looks like there’s an hourglass in there.
GH: Oh, wow.
TF: People come from all over the world to come dig crystals at the Great Salt Plains Lake so…
GH: Well it seems like we’ll have to do that since we’re gonna be right there. So alright.
TF: Yes. Alright. I got shovels.
GH: Alright, thanks a lot. See you soon.
TF: You bet, bye bye.
GH: After the call, I go quiet. Mary notices and asks how I’m feeling…
Mary Purcell: Are you excited? I’m excited.
GH: I am excited. I don’t know why, maybe I’m just being…
GH: Well, paranoid. But I don’t know. He kind of gives me a weird vibe.
MP: You think he might be a fraud?
GH: No, I don’t know. You know, the “I got shovels,” LAUGHS just kind of creeps me out, I guess. He doesn’t creep me out. He didn’t do anything wrong, you know what I mean? Like and maybe I’m just being kind of paranoid about the whole thing but…
MP: You were so excited yesterday.
GH: I am really excited but FADE OUT
GH: Alright. So I guess this is Jet, we’re two miles out from our destination…
GH: Jet, Oklahoma. Goose hunting capital of the Sooner state…though it seems like the geese are winning…according to the latest census, only about 200 people live here.
Those passing through town from the East on Route 64 are greeted by a Cessna T-S37B Tweet, a cute, little retired Air Force trainer jet perched on a pedestal – like it’s lifting into flight.
One’s tempted to think the plane has something to do with why the town is called what it is…one would be wrong. Here, visitors learn quickly: things aren’t always as they seem in Jet, America.
GH: There’s a big red barn and a windmill and an old – well there’s a bunch of old oil rigs. It’s like those rusted things you see sometimes on the side of the highway…
MP: Oh my god, are those goats? Are those goats? GASP
GH: Where? Where?
MP: Right there.
GH: Wow, everywhere we go.
GH: We get to the store Tommy had mentioned – and I give him a call…
GH: Alright, Tommy, we’re at the convenience store.
TF: The store? Alright, I’ll be right there.
GH: What if he never comes? This town is literally like, there’s maybe 12 buildings and most of them are not looking…not looking great. Is this him right here in the pick up truck?
MP: I think it probably is.
GH: I would hope so or else he’s gonna think we’re really weird.
GH: A gray Ram truck slowly comes to a stop in the empty parking lot. The windows – tinted too dark to see the driver. Then, the door opens.
GH: Hey Tommy.
TF: How are you doing?
GH: How are you? It’s great to meet you.
TF: You too.
GH: I appreciate it. Thanks for meeting with us…
MP: Hi, I’m Mary, nice to meet you…FADE OUT
GH: White. Cowboy boots. Blue jeans. Cut off plaid shirt. Bicep tattoo. Grey horseshoe mustache. Trucker baseball cap. Nervous laugh. This is Tommy Farnsworth.
GH: Alright, so what should we do?
TF: Let’s go drive around for a minute.
GH: Yeah, yeah that sounds great.
TF: Kinda show you the area a little bit.
GH: Tommy tells us to hop in his truck and we do, even though we’re unsure of the plan.
GH: My god this is a- this is a beautiful little town here… Oh, I’m sorry am I-
TF: I was just going to hold this.
GH: Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you, appreciate it.
TF: Yeah, It’s uh, I’d say six blocks wide, seven blocks tall. Are you recording me?
GH: Yeah, is that okay?
GH: He slowly drives us around town – pointing out the many anomalies of Jet, Oklahoma.
The stray cats who hang out around the community pool. That misleading little Air Force Trainer jet…
TF: John Jett Senior named the town and it was J E T T. It was his last name…
TF: And this is one of our liberals here in town. We have four liberals in town. One is the Methodist preacher. This lady, another lady down there, another lady there, and they’re the meanest women in town. Everybody else in town are Republicans. LAUGHS
GH: Yeah, so everybody knows that they’re the four liberals in town, right?
TF: Yeah, and everybody’s got their gun loaded for them. No I’m just kidding LAUGHS
GH: You got me a little scared. LAUGHS
TF: This is where the state trooper lives and his wife and daughter… FADE OUT
GH: Tommy keeps driving – I’m not sure where to. But he tells me a little more about himself. He’s 61 years old – moved here into town in 2005. Built his own house.
He was used to rural living. He grew up in Northern California, and on farms in Utah and Missouri – the fifth child of ten.
TF: …it’s one of the meth capital cities in Oklahoma. It’s really sad…FADE OUT
GH: Soon, Tommy starts to slow down…
TF: So there’s the river for the lake and about three years ago, a spillway up there- there’s a very- I’ll take you up there… FADE OUT
GH: We reach the entrance to Great Salt Plains State park – Jet’s main attraction…where the Army Corp of Engineers dammed the Salt Fork Arkansas River.
Tommy drives past the families and their campers. The people in lawn chairs by the shores of the lake, all the way to a vacant parking lot where a set of stairs leads up to the top of the dam.
TF: Well we can go walk up and look at the lake, the spill lake…
CAR DOOR OPENS
GH: I’m sorry? You want me to turn it off? Okay, yeah sure…CUTS OUT
GH: Tommy asks me to turn off my recorder. He’s nervous. Unsure if he actually wants to go through with this. I tell him we can stop at any time if he feels uncomfortable – a nice reminder for myself, too.
But eventually Tommy agrees to talk…he suggests we go up to the top of the dam. I ask him why he’s so cautious, so nervous.
TF: Well, it’s kinda like this. I don’t know you from Adam. Let me see your driver’s license. Do you care if I take a picture of your driver’s license?
GH: Do I care?
TF: You know, it’s got all your information- personal information. Do you trust me enough? You understand it’s a two way street here. How do I know I can trust you, that you’re not…who knows who you are. You know what I’m saying. You just came out of the woodwork, you know?
GH: Maybe I’m stupid, but I was going to let Tommy take that photo…he doesn’t…instead he keeps talking.
TF: I’ve been nervous about you coming LAUGHS to talk to you, yes.
GH: Have you?
TF: Yes. But you know what? When I died, 33 years ago, I learned that our death was marked before we were born. And so, I’m not worried. Let them come. I have good friends in good places.
GH: Tommy looks down at the water over the dam’s edge, steels himself, and begins to tell his story.
TF: So, I was telling Mary that I drove a semi-truck all through the United States…FADE OUT
GH: Tommy says he was an over the road trucker for 16 years. Traveled to every state but Maine and Hawaii. Then, one day, he says, his truck hit a patch of black ice and barrelled into another car.
TF: And there was a man that slid under my trailer and died. And his wife was eight months pregnant and she died. Or she lost the baby. And that was very traumatic.
GH: At the same time, Tommy says he was going through a bad divorce…thought he was gonna lose custody of his kid.
TF: And so it was just, they say that uh- that you can have a traumatic experience like such or a death in the family or whatever- have an experience, a traumatic experience and you can have a heart attack, a stress heart attack.
GH: And that’s what happened, Tommy says. One day he woke up feeling like his chest had been hit with a sledgehammer.
TF: I went to the ER with my heart rate being 38 beats a minute.
GH: Then, he says he flatlined. And during that moment…while he was unconscious, Tommy says he had this elaborate vision – and saw Jesus.
TF: From a distance, maybe 150 feet away, seen by me and other people, and they were talking and I got to feel his love for all of us and he loves us, period…FADE OUT
GH: But Tommy couldn’t stay in that place. Soon, he says someone told him he had to go back.
TF: And at that instant, my eyes opened up, and that doctor had them paddles above my head and I said what are you doing with them, and he said we’re just fixing to jumpstart you…
GH: After that, this brush with death – the vision – Tommy says he was no longer afraid to die – or live.
TF: How do you know? I said because a man told me I had to come back… FADE OUT
GH: It was the mid-90s and Tommy embraced his life as a quote ‘gay cowboy,’ something he now proudly displays with a couple of bumper stickers on the back of his truck.
He bought a small RV park – a ranch just north of Oklahoma City. He was going to be free…live his life, maybe even gamble with it.
TF: You know, you hear about people that was out here, people that were positive, you know and it’s just, I don’t know, you just, it was kind of like a Russian Roulette thing. You know, you just, you go out and play around, you know and have sex, and hope you don’t get the bullet. LAUGHS
GH: Tommy was diagnosed with HIV in May of 1997.
But, all things considered, he was lucky. He had good insurance – he could afford the new, cutting edge antiretrovirals that had begun to save thousands of lives in the US. He says those drugs made his viral load undetectable.
Still, he longed for a cure – one that didn’t have the heavy side effects that came with the drug cocktail he had to be on to maintain his health. Then one day, about three years after his diagnosis, his phone rang…
TF: I still remember I was standing by my island in my kitchen in Edmond, Oklahoma, when I got the phone call.
GH: It was someone he knew, someone he trusted. He wouldn’t give me a name. They told Tommy about a doctor from Tulsa.
TF: And they told me that they have this new treatment that can cure HIV. He says we’d like for you to come to Mexico to- for treatment. And he says we can tell you more when you come down.
GH: But there was a catch. Not one, but two camera crews wanted to film his journey. The first was a documentary team from London.
TF: And Paul Fine with ABC News 20/20. He was the head of the whole filming of all the stories there at 20/20 and he was going to come out and do a documentary film of me also.
GH: All Tommy had to do was say yes. And he did. No hesitation at all…
TF: You know, like I said, I felt like I hit the lottery being chosen to be the poster boy of this medicine. It’s a miracle! There’s a cure for such a devastating thing that has taken millions of lives over the years. You know, from day one. Hundreds of thousands, you know. I watched the documentary of the first days in San Francisco of people dying from HIV, you know, and Aids and it was so sad, you know and CHOKING UP to finally find a cure you know, STARTS CRYING a miracle from God has happened. I was so excited, I wanted to get on top of a mountain and shout hooray, hooray, you know, there’s finally a cure! And so, I wasn’t scared, I was ready to go.
GH: Two days later, Tommy drove down to Matamoras, Mexico, just south of the Texas border. To a clinic. Seven other patients were already there, he says.
And so was the creator of this supposed “miracle cure:” A doctor named Gary Davis.
TF: Very, very nice man. He’s just so down to earth. He’s just like my oldest best friend.
GH: He drew Tommy’s blood…took his levels. Remember, Tommy says he was already undetectable thanks to those antiretrovirals, but they also checked his CD4 cells, or T-cells.
They’re an indicator of how strong your immune system is. HIV generally lowers CD4 counts. That’s why it’s so dangerous.
Antiretrovirals can help boost CD4 counts for people living with HIV, but how long that takes varies person to person…in some cases, it can take years.
TF: But I got tested that afternoon, I went into the clinic- to the lab and got my lab work done.
GH: While the other seven patients were paying for the treatment, Tommy worked out a special deal – after all, he was going to be the poster child for the serum, and be in the documentaries.
TF: It was free. I just had to pay the gas to get down there. LAUGHS
GH: So, that day, Gary Davis administered the goat serum to Tommy. He says it didn’t hurt..
TF: Yeah. They just pinch your belly and stick it in. It’s a sub-q treatment just under the skin. And so it was no big deal. It’s just like a little mosquito bite. LAUGHS
GH: The treatment was to be administered once a week. To be safe, Tommy says he didn’t stop taking his antiretrovirals. But just after the first dose of the serum, he already believed it was having a positive effect.
TF: But this stuff made you feel so much better…my CD4 had doubled in 30 days…so we know it works.
GH: This didn’t mean Tommy was cured, or that the effect would last – but Tommy was sold on the treatment.
He traveled to Mexico every weekend – down and back for at least four weeks. According to Tommy, the tests showed a positive impact on his CD4 count. It kept rising, he says.
He watched the effect on the others involved in clinical trials there. People who had been much sicker than Tommy before they got to Mexico, who hadn’t had access to antiretrovirals, or for whom they were just not effective.
TF: …I got to see them treat people for the first time. And it was amazing, because, the color of their skin, you know their face color would change. And there were some sick people that they treated, that was really sick. And to get to see them just like from lying on the floor almost, so to speak, that they stood up and took off running, just- it’s just like a night and day difference, them getting the medicine.
GH: Over those weeks, Tommy had become more familiar with Gary Davis’ story, and everyone else involved. Including the documentary team from the UK. They wanted to talk to the doctor’s most famous patient… Precious Thomas.
TF: And I made arrangements for Precious and Rocky Thomas to come, and they flew out. And the group of people that was in charge of the whole treatments and all that, they all came and we had a big, big party at my home. I had it catered.
GH: But as time went on, Tommy was less happy with the results of the treatment. He says after his first trip to Mexico, the inventor of this incredible serum had left. And he was now being treated by other doctors.
Tommy started to question the quality of the medicine he and other patients were now being given.
TF: Well, the group that took over the trials, they were kind of like doing clinical trials and such, they did not know the exact process to do the medicine. And they were leaving one critical process out, so it didn’t have the full effect, like it was supposed to after that, it was more kinda more like getting- like a placebo after that.
GH: So you felt a little better, but it wasn’t, it didn’t hold, or did your CD4 count go back to 300?
TF: Later on it did, yes.
GH: Tommy says he only got one dose of what he believed to be the real medicine straight from Dr. Davis – during his first trip to Mexico.
TF: I kind of like- felt like I got cheated out of that lottery ticket that I was supposed to have, you know?
GH: Still Tommy says word spread quickly about his story…even before the documentary was slated to air. Even though there was no social media then – no facebook groups – people desperate for answers were connected, sharing resources and information.
Tommy started getting calls.
TF: People talk to people and people talk to more people and it spread just like wildfire all over the world…the news. You know and I don’t know how they got my number but they did LAUGHS. They just wanted to hear my story about the medicine, they were excited…naturally, you know, you have, we’ll just call it a plague, hit people. And, you know, your friends and loved ones are dying, you know? And how do you, they don’t know how to save them. And then all of a sudden, they hear of a miracle that has happened. And they want to hear about it. And so they were calling me from all over the world wanting to hear. Just talk to me.
GH: But – he was also getting strange calls… from the Washington DC area..
TF: And they would let me know where they were calling from, they wouldn’t tell me their names. But then one day, this guy called me. He says, call this phone number and told me the lady’s name, I don’t remember now, it’s been a while. But um he said she is number one in charge at the FDA.
GH: During the time immediately following these trials, the number one in charge at the FDA would have been Dr. Jane E. Henney.
She was the first woman to serve as commissioner of the agency. She headed it for just two years…from January 1999 to January 2001.
TF: And so they said this is her phone number to her desk at work. And call her and ask her what it would take to get a Compassionate Waiver. So I could be treated in Oklahoma City instead of driving to Mexico every week.
GH: This seemed like a good deal to Tommy – not having to make the long trip every weekend…
TF: So I called her and she says, well you know, you have to have a doctor on board that will do it. And then you have to hire an attorney. And then he’ll still- have him contact me and we’ll get him pointed in the right direction for the paperwork, and then so you can get the paperwork started and then um we got to go through the process. And then eventually it’ll land up- end up on my desk. And then I have to sign it to approve it before it’ll be approved to happen. And I says, okay, but she said, that will never happen. It’ll be a cold day in hell that I sign that document to approve a compassionate waiver in the United States for this medicine. And I said, why? And she said, because it will just never happen. Of course, I got upset and then, with her, and then she asked me how did you get my phone number? And I said, well, I guess it just doesn’t matter because I got it. I’m talking to you, aren’t I? LAUGHS And we had some choice words, then we ended the call.
GH: Everything I had heard so far sounded very, very odd. Why would some stranger tell Tommy to call this woman at the FDA – just to have her tell him no way? How did they get her direct number? I tried to reach out to Jane Henney – but I was not able to connect with her.
And Tommy’s story, it just gets much weirder from here:
TF: But then the next day I get another call from a man who identified himself as being in Washington DC. And he told me that I needed to disappear. I said why? He said because they had put a $50,000 bond out on my head to kill me. And I said really? Because I was the poster boy for this medicine and they wanted it to go completely away. So I said, well, how do I disappear? And he said, he told me how to do it. So I did it. I disappeared for a while.
TF: He told me just to leave. Don’t turn my utilities off or nothing. Just leave. Let everything shut itself off. And then, that way they don’t really have a trail of you. Like you just disappeared.
GH: Were you scared?
TF: Yeah I was scared. Scared the hell out of me. You know when you hitchhike there’s no records of tickets being purchased here, or there. You know? Yeah, I went to Florida. Orlando, you can hide a lot, there’s a lot of people there. You can hide in amongst, you know, and they don’t find you.
GH: Tommy says he stayed in Florida for over a year because of that one phone call.
TF: It’s just a random call and I believed him. I took him for his word, you know. After talking to that lady in the FDA and her opinion, you know, her attitude about everything. She kind of made me a believer. So when I got that call the next day, I didn’t question it. I just left. I threw that phone away when I left here. Before I left here, I threw it away, I took it apart and threw it away. And when I got to Florida, then I got me another, another telephone and a new phone number and went from there.
TF: Sometimes you’re going through life, you just have to not look back. It’s safer not to look back, just keep looking forward. Go on and don’t worry about well, you know something’s gonna happen, you know, you can’t live like that in fear all your life, you know.
GH: After 15 months, Tommy felt safe to come home. It seemed like whoever was chasing him had forgotten about him. Upon his return to Oklahoma, Tommy says his friends had questions.
TF: They’re like what happened to you? And I says I just got lost. Took me a while to find my way back home. LAUGHS.
GH: He only told a couple people about what really happened, he says – all these years later he couldn’t remember their names.
This is why Tommy was so nervous about me coming. This is why we’re speaking at the top of the dam.
TF: Do not talk about it on the telephone, or emails, or texts. Talk about it, when you make final decisions about anything- it has to be done in person.
GH: Did you take us out here because- were you were worried about people listening to us?
TF: Yes LAUGHS… I wanted to have a neutral zone, yes. If I felt like I could even slightly possibly be in danger from you guys, this would never happened. But I can know things. When I shook your hand I knew. I was safe.
GH: Tommy tells us more about his ordeal with the serum – interspersed with some casual bird watching.
TF: And then…the duck got a fish right down here, see there.
MP: Oh my god…FADE OUT
GH: Then he mentions something else….I ask him if he’s aware of anybody who still knows how to make the serum.
GH: And was there anybody to your knowledge who knew how to do the formula like Dr. Davis?
TF: Somebody will probably kill me- but I do.
GH: Seems odd. I mean, it makes sense that the doctor’s family members would know how to make it – but – why Tommy? He doesn’t care to explain.
TF: And I know of one other person that knows how to make it too, and has made it and has treated people with it.
MP: Recently? Or?
TF: Not recently, but a few years ago. But they’re getting ready to start treating again. Not in the United States it’s out of the country.
GH: Tommy says the serum didn’t die with its inventor. He says someone’s out there – getting ready to treat more people. He didn’t want to say who.
After nearly two hours of talking, we walk back down the steps to the parking lot and hop back in Tommy’s truck…
ENGINE TURNING OVER
GH: Once again, I’m not sure what the plan is. He asks us if we want to get lunch.
TF: Do you guys want to get some lunch there- there’s a little store?
GH: Um, it’s okay. Thank you.
GH: We decline. I can’t even think about food right. I’m trying to process what I’ve just heard – get a read on Tommy. If I could believe any of the things he just told me: seeing Jesus during a near-death experience …the alleged “cold day in hell” comment from the FDA commissioner…or the warning from an anonymous caller to get out of town…even the claim that Tommy took part in trials with the serum at all.
The doctor’s son Shawn said he did, but who knows, he wasn’t in Mexico when all this went down.
Tommy offered zero proof to back up any of it…no ticket stubs…no photos…no recordings…and as Tommy said himself, I didn’t know him from Adam.
He says he knew he was safe once he shook my hand…or did he just think I was a sucker?
Half of my brain is on fire with the question: am I a sucker? Has this guy been bullshiting me for hours now? What exactly am I chasing here?
The other half preoccupied with being polite, keeping everything cool with Tommy as he just keeps driving – talking.
TF: I figured that’s the reason why God made me disabled…. FADE OUT
GH: Eventually, he mentions that he suffered a traumatic brain injury back in 2007.
TF: I used to be angry about it for- for a while. Well for the first four years I couldn’t remember shit.
GH: He doesn’t offer any details on how it happened, but says it really impacted his memory, his ability to function…
TF: … Couldn’t remember what I did that day. And then I had to relearn a whole lot. I had to learn a whole lot of words.
GH: That must’ve been hard- recovering from that, I mean.
TF: Well, I ended up homeless for a while too. Winter of ‘08 and first part of ‘09 I ended up homeless in Billings, Montana living in my pickup.
GH: He’d forget how to get places – where to go…
TF: If I got more than two blocks from home, once I did get a house, a place, um, I was lost.
GH: He says it took him four years to get better. He stops his story to point out wildlife…
TF: That’s how I ended up in Billings because I went to the hospital….look at that armadillo…
GH: Oh wow. Oh my god. I’ve never seen one before.
GH: Tommy frequently stops his truck…first to pick up this live armadillo on the side of the road, then to check out a big tractor.
MP: This wheel is literally bigger than my entire body.
GH: And once again to pet horses on a neighbor’s farm…
TF: These three here are little girls and they’re called Billies.
GH: They are beautiful.
GH: Over an hour goes by – the wide sky begins to close…darken with storm clouds.
Tommy’s clearly gotten more comfortable with us. It seems like he enjoys the company. Eventually, he decides to head back toward Jet…
TF: … Starts uh selling soy beans again. You know, this is the wrong road. It’s another road to the north one mile. But we’ll turn around and go back up there. FADE OUT
GH: After some more detours, we find our way to Tommy’s home – which turns out is only a block or so from where I parked.
It’s a small storefront next to a bank that he converted into his living space…all by hand for $1,500. Several Trump flags are on display outside.
TF: Cinderblock was here and then I added barn wood to it. FADE OUT
GH: He shows us around. It’s dark in here. Cluttered. Cramped. A collection of cowboy hats hang on antlers secured to the wall next to his bed. The ceiling is low, made of recycled corrugated tin from an old barn Tommy installed himself.
Pale fruits and vegetables sealed in mason jars line wooden shelves…not too far away from his chicken and pigeon coops.
TF: That’s my therapy. Them chickens and pigeons are my therapy.
TF: Yeah and I got a letter too from my doctor stating to the fact that-
GH: That it’s- that they’re therapy animals…
TF: That my chickens are my therapy animals so the city can’t tell me to get rid of them. You kinda just gotta watch where you step…
GH: Oh yeah, sure.
GH: On his desk, an assortment of pill bottles. Tommy’s on disability insurance…says that’s the only way he can afford his antiretrovirals to keep his HIV at bay.
TF: I told my doctor I says, They just need to take me out and shoot me, I’m too expensive to keep alive! LAUGHS Just joking around of course, you know. FADE OUT
TF: The air condition has been off all day, mind you, it’ll be 106 degrees outside and then 77 degrees in the house.
GH: Well, we should probably hit the road…FADE OUT
GH: Not the first time I said that today – but Tommy always had just one more thing to show us in Jet before we left. This time, however, it sticks. Finally, we hit the road.
GH: Alright, I’ll be in touch.
TF: Alright, take care, we’ll see you.
GH: Thank you so much.
TF: Alright bye bye…FADE OUT
GH: You can turn that off and put it down, sorry… FADE OUT
GH: We have a long trip ahead of us to get home from Oklahoma – and driving hours and hours, I mull everything over – the wild stories – Tommy told me. He’s likable, for sure – but believable?
When I finally get home, I have no idea where to start when it comes to fact checking Tommy’s claims…and anyway. There’s something else I’ve been dying to do – for a while now- watch that footage Doug Henderson gave me, that I had digitized- So, you know, I pop the disc into my DVD player… And my eyes all but fall out of my head…
Narrator: Dawn in Oklahoma, to this man’s neighbors it may be just another day but to Tommy Farnsworth, each sunrise is even more precious than the last…
Man: Hey buddy.
Man: Getting ready to go?
TF: Just about.
Man: You nervous?
TF: Uhh yes.
GH: There he is.
TF: This is giving me a second chance.
GH: Tommy Farnsworth.
TF: Second chance at- my whole life back.
GH: Younger – in Mexico – getting injected with the serum.
Doctor: What we’re about to see is a patient that’s been infected with the Aids virus receive a treatment of goat serum.
TF: Just a tiny little bump. Like a little mosquito bite…
Doctor: Okay, well, we’re going to continue to do this on a weekly basis and then we’ll go ahead and I guess when you go back to meet your physician on Monday… FADE OUT
GH: Next time, on Serum:
Gary Davis: I’ve had death threats, uh numerous, calls, letters.
GH: What the hell is happening?
GD: There’s nothing that can go forward if I’m dead. And I want things to go forward. So I had to be taken out of the field of action and just get this project moving forward.collapse
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Brought to you by Serum
A Black doctor, a potential cure for AIDS, and the quest to find out what happened to it. A limited run podcast production of WHYY's The Pulse and Local Trance Media.