When she started working as one of only five nurses in UC’s Infectious Diseases Center (IDC) in 1987, Tammy Powell, RN, never imagined she’d find herself in the same job nearly 20 years later.
“I started working as a nurse to make money so I could go to school and become a psychologist,” says Powell. “But the job was so rewarding, the patients appreciated our efforts so much—I couldn’t leave them.”
And leaving them is something Powell has never done. Not even when high mortality rates and the threat of funding cuts sent her to work in home health and hospice care in the early 1990s.
For four years, Powell managed the “red ribbon team,” a group of nurses, social workers, home health aids, chaplains and support staff caring for people with HIV/AIDS. Even though she was working away from UC, she was visiting and caring for the same group of patients as they returned to their homes from the Infectious Diseases Center.
“I became a specialist in home health care and was able to help those who were taking experimental drugs and literally fighting for their life,” says Powell.
Seeing so many die made this a particularly tough time in her life, Powell decided to keep a journal to help cope with the stress. Looking back, she recently found a journal entry from 1994 simply titled “Funeral #60.”
But during the next two years, Powell began to see improvements among her patients. In 1996, a new type of drug called a protease inhibitor resulted in a decline in AIDS-related deaths.
“As effective treatments were found, fewer people were dying, and I came back to help fight the battle against AIDS on the research front,” Powell says.
When she returned to work for the Infectious Diseases Center in 1997, she was armed with a different perspective.
“Hospice is a terrific resource for people who have signed a ‘do not resuscitate’ order, because it emphasizes more quality than quantity care,” says Powell. “But a lot of the AIDS patients were young and not so ready to give up,” she adds.
“They continued to participate in AIDS drug trials. Because of medical research and the study participants’ courage, some are still alive yet today.”
Powell, now the clinical trials manager in the IDC, says it’s the uniqueness of the center that she finds so fascinating.
“We aren’t just caring for AIDS patients. We’re also doing cutting-edge research,” she says.
And as for her original dream of becoming a psychologist? Powell says she learned to use her psychology skills to help her patients and their families through grief counseling.
“It’s funny how life grabs hold of you and leads you on fulfilling side paths as you are considering your ultimate goals,” she says. “Sometimes you have to just ‘go with the flow’ and do what you feel is best at that point in time.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS. To commemorate the Infectious Diseases Center’s battle against HIV/AIDS and its service to the local community, the Academic Health Center and University Hospital held a public event, World AIDS Day, on Dec. 1.
The event, emceed by former broadcast journalist Nick Clooney, recognized the research and patient care achievements of the IDC and its leaders who are advancing current knowledge of the disease. The IDC received a proclamation
from the city of Cincinnati that acknowledge these accomplishments and its 20 years of service. The event concluded with a remembrance ceremony for those whose lives where taken by the disease.