by: Capella Tucker, June 5, 2006 5:06:00 am
Nurse Carol Reliford was working at the old Jefferson Davis Hospital when patients started coming in with what medical professionals were just starting to learn was HIV/AIDS. Reliford remembers having little to offer them in terms of treatment ... it was basically limited to IV therapy and blood transfusions.
"Some would come back for treatments and some just got a little tired and just kind of gave up. It was very depressing at that time to take care of the clients and be positive. It was hard on the staff too because even though we took care of pulmonary patients, there was always some hope."
That was when AIDS was considered a death sentence. That's no longer the case.
"When I walk through my clinic now I just smile, I always smile, they say, oh the smiling nurse. The reason I smile, it's nice to be friendly too, but I'm just so glad to see how well my patients look because if you walk in you would not dare think there's anything wrong with any patients here."
Thomas Street opened in 1989 and was the nation's first free-standing HIV/AIDS treatment facility. Reliford says it was a blessing.
"They were able to have a place of their own. They were just as happy as we were to come over here. We had a lot of patients who would help us, the staff. They would volunteer, what can we do to help you, you know."
Thomas Street now serves about 4,000 clients a year. Joel Guerrero went to Thomas Street in 1991. His test came back positive for HIV. He's celebrating his 50th birthday this month and has been living with AIDS for the last eight years.
"My quality of life is getting better even though the illness is still there and I have my good days and I have my bad days."
Geuerrero says knowing research into better treatments keeps him motivated. As far as how society views HIV and AIDS, Geuerrero is not as optimistic.
"In my point of view it's been very little change. And people still have a lot of ignorance about AIDS. They still think that you can catch it by touching somebody, or using the same bathroom or whatever so that's why it's important for people to get educated about this disease."
Thomas Street Health Center officials add that with better treatments HIV and AIDS is more like a chronic condition, like diabetes. People are living longer and working at having a better quality of life. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.