Bent on survival

"Back then I thought 'I'm on my last legs'. I thought I was going to die."

Loren Antes, who lives in Nashville, was the first HIV patient seen at the Comprehensive Care Center in 1994, and he was also the first patient seen in the new Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic which opened on Oct. 4. His survival illustrates the dramatic advances in AIDS treatment and care over the past two decades.

Antes learned he'd contracted the virus in 1987, a virtual death sentence at the time. Despite his diagnosis, he chose to forgo treatment, believing that any medical efforts would be made in vain.

"Everybody was shocked when I first told them about (the diagnosis)," Antes said. "For the first five or six years, I didn't do anything about it. Then I went over to a clinic in East Nashville that I didn't like very much, and then finally to the Comprehensive Care Center, which was a lot better."

Dr. Steven Raffanti, a Vanderbilt University faculty member, founded the Comprehensive Care Center, which has become one of the nation’s largest and most successful outpatient HIV/AIDS treatment facilities.

The initial efforts began in 1992 when Phil Bredesen, then Mayor of Nashville, convened a Task Force on The Financial Impact of HIV on Healthcare Institutions in Middle Tennessee. Representatives from the major hospitals and medical schools met with civic and business leaders, and the Comprehensive Care Center opened in February 1994.

Clinical services to CCC patients will now be provided under a new name, the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic. The clinic will continue to offer a wide range of services to patients, including specialized care for pregnant women with HIV.

Nearly 90% of the clinic's staff are employees of Vanderbilt, a support group that have made this move a seamless transition. Patients like Antes now have a more convenient way in which to receive treatment.

"For patients, besides the beautiful facility, this is a chance to take advantage of the latest advancements in medical care and technology," Raffanti said. "We try to be a one-stop shop and tailor our services to the needs of the patient."

The positive impact of current medical care is far greater than when Antes first sought treatment in the early Nineties. He endured a rigorous process where his body often betrayed him.

"I had to go through a lot of different medical regiments," Antes said. "A lot of times I was feeling more sick than I was before I came in. It took a while to finally find one that worked."

Antes continues to lead a productive life, and in the near future, the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic will provide him and other patients with the necessary tools to maintain their health.

"We deal with illnesses of the general population, but in HIV patients these illnesses occur at an accelerated rate," Raffanti said. "Our goal in the next few years is to minimize the downside of taking their medications and identify how to decrease these health risks."

Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic will also partner with local organizations such as Nashville CARES to stress education and prevention.  Antes is now a symbol of hope as the clinic starts its new journey.

"The Middle Tennessee community---and I really do believe this is a community---can benefit from this new partnership," Raffanti said. "We believe this is an enormously valuable service to the community. Our patients will continue to get cutting-edge treatment, and we've been extremely successful at having positive outcomes from this care."

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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