[This item originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of the UNC Center for AIDS Research newsletter. It has been shortened and edited to conform to GH Notes style]
Lynn Tillery is a clinical research associate at the UNC Center for AIDS Research. She works on Project ImPact with investigators David Wohl and Carol Golin. Project ImPact examines facilitators and barriers to medical care and services for people with HIV who have just been released from the prison system. For Lynn, this means traveling all around the state to meet with and help research participants who are transitioning from incarceration to freedom.
Lynn’s job includes recruiting HIV positive people in the North Carolina correctional system to participate in Project ImPact. She visits them in prison and collects information about their lives, health, and plans for after they are released. Lynn visits the participants again within 24 hours of their being released, when she provides them with a cell phone and supplies like toiletries, condoms, and a clean shirt. She helps them count their HIV medications and prepares them for their medication regimen outside of prison.
She makes four additional visits, traveling to the study participants’ hometowns to ask them about their physical, mental, and social health, access to health care, and adherence to their medication regimen. At each visit, she draws blood to measure their viral load and CD4 count to track the progression of the HIV virus.
Being in the field is significantly different from looking at study participants on paper. “It brings a human aspect to everything,” Lynn said. She has realized that “there is a big distinction between viewing a person in a database before release and actually seeing them on the day they get out of prison.” Sometimes “they have nowhere to go and are down about life in general.” Often their family “has discarded them for one reason or another and they have no one to look to,” she said. “In the field, you get the raw version of everything. To some of these inmates, you are the only positive role model in their lives.”
Lynn currently has five former inmates who call her for everything, including decisions about jobs, housing, and life in general. They will also call to share good news, such as having gotten a job interview. “They just want someone to tell them they are doing a good job and are going in the right direction,” she said. Lynn has become “an important part of their lives, because some of them have no one else that they trust to help them.”
For Lynn, the most rewarding aspect of her job is when she gets a chance to positively affect the quality of life of study participants. “I have seen some people completely turn their lives around, going from a shelter with nothing but the clothes on their backs, to having their own place to live,” she said. Health wise, she has seen study participants go from having a viral load “in the millions” to having no detectible virus and “living a healthy life.”
Although Lynn is not certain where her career will lead her, she is sure that it will include working with people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
The UNC CFAR is fortunate and grateful to have dedicated team members like Lynn Tillery and her colleagues.