"That's the most important thing that you have seen at the CARE Center: the quality care. People know that they are going to be receiving the most incredible care in terms of quality but also in terms of genuine, somebody who genuinely cares for you."
Octavio Vallejo, a CARE Center patient and clinical trial participant for the past 15 years, recounts his experiences as a CARE Center patient and describes the state of the AIDS epidemic.
I came to the UCLA CARE Center clinic for the first time in 1999, so it's 15 years now that I have been a regular here. Being at CARE has been like a perfect fit. I am not only a patient but also a part of the team through my participation in the clinical trials. It's a feeling for me of the more I give, the more I receive. I have always benefitted from the UCLA CARE Clinic, and I am helping to move the research forward. Under the latest Sangamo study, I will stop taking my HIV medications to see if gene therapy can be used instead of themeds to help control my HIV. I am a little nervous, but I know that I am under Dr. Mitsuyasu's good care.
That's the most important thing that you have seen at the CARE Center - the quality care. People know that they are going to be receiving the most incredible care in terms of quality but also in terms of genuine, somebody who genuinely cares for you. I cannot tell you how many people in Los Angeles acknowledge the service of Dr. Margrit Carson and Dr. Ardis Moe. Dr. Moe is like a celebrity. That genuine care is in every single medical care staff member, from the people running the front desk giving you the warm welcome, to Mike Marcial, who is the clinic manager. With him, it's about what you need and whatever you need you can always contact him.
And then there's Dr. Currier. In very few words, she's the one who brought me back to life. And let me explain to you why. When I arrived under the care of Dr. Currier, I was already resistant to most of the medication available at the time, because I was taking sequential mono-therapy with different medications. I remember she said, "I will not give you anything new until we know what works." She did a phenotype resistance test and she found a regimen that worked for more than ten years in controlling my HIV. And she has always been really supportive in taking care of me, even when I did something stupid, like getting liposuction in Mexico without follow-up care.
I have heard that what defines you as a human being is your work and your passion. What has defined me is my work with HIV, which I have done since 1989 in different arenas including at UCLA, in corporate Americawith a pharmaceutical company, and now in the nonprofit sector, with the AIDS Project Los Angeles. For me it has always been about my experiences and that it is possible to overcome the challenge of living with HIV. When I began working for the Public Health Department in an HIV program in Miami, I was required to take an HIV test. The results came back positive, making my work all the more personal. I am an advocate and activist.
Looking at the whole picture of the current AIDS epidemic, it is very interesting. My optimist side wants me to believe that we are going to find something remarkable in regards to a cure in the next 5 or 6 years, but on the other side my cynical part is saying that the epidemic will keep growing in terms of new cases of people newly diagnosed, and many of these among minorities of color. Three decades into this epidemic, there are still people who have never been tested for HIV who show up with advanced staged of AIDS, with several complications that could have been totally preventable. The whole picture is one that is very promising because we have fantastic things in terms of new approaches to treatment, and the other side is late-stage diagnoses. It's so complicated.