Coping with AIDS today - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Coping with AIDS today


Madison (WKOW) -- In the early days, a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS was a death sentence.

  But today, people are living for decades with what is now considered a chronic, manageable disease.

  And there's a new type of clinic making a positive difference in the lives of AIDS patients.

  Kathy Bennett, AIDS patient, said, "Back then, the only information that I had about HIV and AIDS was death."

  In 1990, a positive HIV test turned Kathy Bennett's world upside down.

  Today, the disease isn't the only thing on her mind.

  Bennett said, "basically, I don't focus on living with AIDS anymore. Even though I know I have it, that's not my main focus because it's being managed. That's in check. So, it's other things that me and my doctor mainly discuss now."

  She's not alone.

  New therapies have turned a disease that once meant certain death into one that is manageable.

  Nurse Derek Spencer said, "it's now a chronic illness and we believe today that there are gonna' be people diagnosed with HIV that may never know what it is to have AIDS."

  Derek Spencer helps run the Jacques Initiative, a new program at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland.

  Spencer also said, "we prepare people to live well with HIV, so we educate them and provide different services to prepare them to be successful."

  One of those services is to oversee patients taking their medications.

  Sticking to the strict regimen isn't always easy.

  Patient Allie Reitz said, "just remembering to take it, you know, somebody's telling you, 'okay, take this regimen the same time everyday, twice a day for me, for the rest of your life,' you know?"

  But it's those therapies that keep people with HIV and AIDS alive and well.

  Doctor Robert Gallo added, "we're focused on making therapy better from basic research and we're focused on getting a vaccine. That's the goal of this institute right now."

  Center director and AIDS pioneer Robert Gallo helped discover the virus back in the early 80s.

  And he developed the blood test to detect it.

  Doctor Gallo also said, "we're understanding much more about how HIV enters the cell, which I personally believe is essential for an effective vaccine, that knowledge."

  He says the research is progressing at a good pace and a vaccine that provides complete protection is on the horizon.

  Until then, testing and early intervention with the right medications are key.

  Bennett said, "I've been on this medicine now for about 8 years and I thank God that the medicine that I'm on, I'm glad that it worked because if it didn't, that was my only option, and I wouldn't be here doing this interview today."

  The therapy is a bright spot in a formerly gloomy picture.

  The success of the Jacques Initiative has piqued the interest of hospitals around the country.

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