Theater, Nursing Students Learn About HIV-AIDS at Forum

Oct 16, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor

In the musical Rent, the characters Roger and Mimi, falling in love, sing “I should tell you, I’m disaster.” Both of them are HIV-positive.

The question for HIV/AIDS patients – should I tell family, friends, and potential lovers? – is one that Dr. Daniela Chiriboga-Salazar knows too well. A senior physician with the Polk County Department of Health who sees many HIV/AIDS patients, Dr. Chiriboga-Salazar told FSC nursing and theater students at a forum that even though it is hard, it’s always best for people infected with the virus to tell others.

“People who don’t share do the worst. If you share it with family and friends, you’re going to do better,” she said.

The Oct. 9 forum was unusual because it brought together students from two departments who normally do not share classes. It was spontaneously organized by two faculty members, Assistant Professor Teresa Lyle of the School of Nursing and Assistant Professor Christianne Roll of the Department of Theatre Arts. Roll is the musical director of the department’s upcoming production of Rent, in which four of the characters in a group of artists in New York’s East Village are HIV-positive or have AIDS. Dr. Lyle and Ms. Roll decided a forum about HIV for cast members and nursing students would help educate both groups of students about the disease, its treatment, and the care of those infected.

In the open forum, Dr. Chiriboga-Salazar answered questions from the students for almost 90 minutes on topics ranging from how the virus reproduces in the body to the emotional effects of the disease. She noted that there were misconceptions in the early years of the AIDS epidemic that it was a disease of gay men, which resulted in discrimination. The most common form of transmission worldwide is heterosexual activity, she said. Other forms of transmission include blood transfusions, use of a contaminated intravenous needle, and through childbirth, she said.

Dr. Chiriboga-Salazar also pointed out that there is still a lot of fear and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

“I have nursing students who will put on gloves even before they walk into a room with a patient. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get the disease just by shaking hands. I once had a patient whose family would not let her cook or kiss her grandchildren. I had to tell them there was no reason to be scared,” she said.

Rent is set in the 1990s, and Dr. Chiriboga-Salazar said that in those days, before the discovery of more effective drugs, life expectancy for someone diagnosed with AIDS was about six months. Today, with proper treatment, patients can have a normal life span.

Another participant in the forum, Linda Gellatly MSN ’12, an advanced nurse practitioner for the Polk County Department of Health, told the students there are currently about 1,800 cases of HIV/AIDS in Polk County.

“We have college students, professionals, people of all kinds. We are number 13 in the nation per 1,000 population,” she said.

Dr. Chiriboga-Salazar told the students she had some homework for them: get tested for the disease.

“The Centers for Disease Control recommends that every person over the age of 18 get tested at least once in their lifetime,” she said.

The cooperation between the nursing and theater departments did not end with the forum. The nursing students will attend a performance of Rent, and the theater students were invited to an Italian dinner hosted by the nursing students.