Asked why she worked for so many years with HIV and AIDS patients, Dr. Kristen Reis had a simple reply: "Every day of life is important."
She cared for people with the illness before it even had a name; when an HIV diagnosis was an instant death sentence. She cared for them when other healthcare providers turned them away. She went into their homes when they were too sick to come to her. She never discriminated, she just cared. Today, Ries was honored for her caring and compassion by Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis, who presented her with a copy of the anti-discrimination bill recently signed into law. That law protects people from being discriminated against in employment or housing based on sexual orientation or identity.
"When my friend Tim Howard was sick, there were no doctors that would see him," Dabakis said, addressing Dr. Ries before presenting the bill at a small ceremony at the Capitol. "It was only you. He came to you and you served him." At first Ries didn't even realize her patients were being discriminated against by others. "We were so busy taking care of the patients, we didn't have time for anything else," she said. "But when I saw the discrimination, I got really mad."
Ries, along with nurse Maggie Snyder, worked tirelessly throughout the late '80s and early '90s caring for HIV and AIDS patients. The work didn't stop outside the clinic. On weekends the pair would make house calls all over the state. "From Brigham City to Payson, we fell in with them and did their life with them," Ries said. When patients were in the hospital, she and Snyder would go into their homes to collect belongings for them. They would speak to family members unsure how to deal with the illness and its complications. They would hold the hands of the dying. "Your eyes, and heart, were the last thing many people saw," Dabakis said. Snyder added that most of the care was provided at no cost. "Most people didn't have insurance, and couldn't work," she said. "She would say, 'if you can pay me five dollars a month, I will take care of you.'"
"I am honored to be the keeper of this bill," Ries said. "This is not about me, though, it's about the community."