January 2015 marks the 30th year of caring for patients with HIV/AIDS for Dr. Keith Henry of HCMC’s Positive Care Clinic. Since those early days he’s seen a dramatic change in treatment options and survival, including the introduction of highly effective – and often simple HIV medications – that can control HIV growth and generally prevent AIDS-related disease and death.
“These new medications, along with effective prevention and the development of multidisciplinary outpatient care teams have made a tremendous difference in the management and survival of patients with HIV,” explains Dr. Henry. “As a physician and researcher, seeing how these advances in HIV treatment and prevention have changed the lives of my patients is very rewarding,” says Dr. Henry. “The early years were very tough with many young people suffering a series of devastating complications of AIDS generally ending in their death. At times it was almost overwhelming.”
If an effective HIV treatment that could often reverse and usually prevent AIDS-related illness and death not been introduced, Dr. Henry says that it would have been difficult to remain dedicated to the field. But in 1996 that’s exactly what happened – and “dedicated” is exactly what he’s been over the past 30 years – and his patients are very grateful.
“Dr. Henry told me that people with this will be fine so I’m holding him to that,” jokes patient Shelia Mills. “He’s been very good to me and I really appreciate it. I’m now living my life – and not just existing. I’m not afraid anymore.”
What does the future hold for HIV/AIDS care? Dr. Henry believes HIV will become more of a mainstream illness incorporated into regular primary care practices, and that cure efforts will lead to further at least occasional successes, (i.e. such as seen with the Berlin AIDS patient who is functionally cured).
“Initially, curing patients of HIV/AIDS may be complicated and expensive, but in the long run, it will be worth every penny if this disease can be eliminated.”
Dr. Keith Henry is the Director of HIV Research for the Positive Care Clinic at Hennepin County Medical Center. He is also a Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. In 2000, Dr. Henry moved his practice, research efforts, grants and staff to HCMC so his efforts to care for indigent patients while conducting research could continue at the only remaining public teaching hospital in Minnesota. He was recently interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio about his 30-year history of providing HIV/AIDS care.