This month, Oak Tree celebrated World AIDS Day and its 25th anniversary by hosting an event with patients and their families and, past and current doctors and staff.
The event was a celebration to recognize how HIV care has advanced to become a manageable illness allowing people living with HIV to lead healthy, happy and productive lives. Former colleagues and friends reunited and patients got to reconnect with their former care providers. Special guests included the founders of the clinic: Drs. David Burdge and Jack Forbes.
One of Oak Tree’s first clients, Peggy Frank, spoke about the importance of HIV and wellbeing. She recalled how she was a patient of Dr. Burdge’s before the clinic even opened. When Peggy found out she was infected with HIV, she researched infectious diseases specialists and knew she had found her doctor when her consultation with Dr. Burdge went on for three hours.
“I was so much more than HIV,” says Peggy when she reflected on her meeting with Dr. Burdge. “The team at Oak Tree embraced me at my emotional lowness.”
Peggy talked about how there are many different sides to her: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, sexual and cultural. She noted that we should be honoured for who we are and all our complexities. At 65 years old, Peggy anticipates she will still be a patient of Oak Tree when she’s 99 and continue to visit the clinic for 25 more years.
“I seldom felt like a 'patient' at Oak Tree. I felt I had a family of healing partners who wanted what was best for me, helping me make treatment decisions. We are partners in our own care."
BC Women’s recognized the need for specific care for women living with HIV, especially pregnant women who are at risk of passing the infection to their baby. Since 1997, pregnant women who were treated at Oak Tree with antiretroviral therapy (medication used to treat HIV) for more than four weeks delivered healthy babies who are HIV-negative. The clinic successfully prevented over 500 vertical transmission of HIV among mother-baby pairs.
The interdisciplinary team provides holistic care across the lifespan (birth to adulthood) in a patient-centred, safe, supportive and non-stigmatizing environment. What’s unique about Oak Tree is that it provides service for the entire family, not only the clients who are living with HIV but their partners and children to prevent HIV transmission including family planning.