Friday, April 3, 2015 12:00 AM

Valley's only pediatric HIV/AIDS specialist makes bright futures possible

Kassidy Caitlin, an HIV/AIDS advocate and sophomore English major at Fresno Pacific University, was born to a mother with AIDS in the mid-1990s—at a time when HIV/AIDS was making headlines. President Bill Clinton created a Presidential Advisory Council for the disease, gold medal Olympian Greg Louganis disclosed his HIV-positive status and medical breakthroughs in drug therapies reduced the mother-to-infant infection rates by two-thirds. But not for Kassidy.

Kassidy Caitlin, a Specialty Health Center patient, hugs her mom, Teresa Camarillo, during her bridal gown fitting. Kassidy, diagnosed with HIV shortly after birth, credits the center and UCSF Fresno pediatric AIDS specialist, Dr. Ivan Gomez, for keeping her healthy.

She was diagnosed as HIV positive when she was 3 months old. In 1990 that diagnosis would’ve meant a future darkened by doubts and stunted possibilities for many.  But 20 years after her HIV diagnosis, in the midst of dress fittings, flower arrangement choices and all the stress and excitement that comes with a wedding, Kassidy is living life to the fullest and looking towards a bright future with endless possibilities.

“I never thought I would see her graduate, let alone get married. The care and attention that she received from the Special Services Clinic and Dr. Gomez made all the difference. They are our family,” said Teresa Camarillo, referring to Community Regional Medical Center’s Specialty Health Center and Dr. Ivan Gomez, the UCSF Fresno Family Medicine director.

Dr. Gomez is the only pediatric HIV/AIDS specialist in a five-county region and has cared for Kassidy since she was a baby.

“What really makes the Specialty Health Center unique is its wrap-around services for the patient. The services that are provided see to all aspects of a patient’s needs—this was the first place in the Valley to provide this level of care to HIV/AIDS patients,” said Dr. Gomez.

As the largest program in the Central San Joaquin Valley, Community’s Specialty Health Center provides medical care and support services for the unique needs of nearly 1,000 HIV/AIDS patients from five counties – Fresno, Madera, Merced, Kings and Tulare. Community has grown its program, in part, because government public health departments have downsized or eliminated services to that population. The clinic at the Deran Koligian Ambulatory Care Center sees all HIV/AIDS positive patients, regardless of ability to pay for services.

The center in downtown Fresno is one of two locations in the Central San Joaquin Valley providing care for pediatric HIV/AIDS patients. The other is in Bakersfield. And it’s the only Valley clinic designated for federal funding under the Ryan White CARE Act, established in 1990 to improve the quality and availability of care for low-income, underinsured patients and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Community funds additional costs for the center out of annual community benefits.

Nationwide, only 30% of HIV/AIDS patients receive continuous medical care like what’s available through Community’s clinic.  The fact that 70% of those with HIV/AIDS do not receive ongoing treatment is one of the main challenges to preventing the disease.

Kassidy’s continuous treatment has meant she’s been able to work giving hope and support to others with her condition, volunteering with Fresno’s All About Care, a non-profit organization that helps women and children infected with HIV/AIDS, and volunteering at a camp for HIV/AIDS positive children.

As she tries on her wedding dress Kassidy shares a wide smile and reflects on the future ahead: “I see myself being a momma to a maximum of four kids, running around. But I can wait for that!  In the meantime, I see myself enjoying my life with my future husband and my family.”

Alma Martinez, Community Outreach Specialist, reported this story. Reach her at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.