Friday, March 28, 2014

May you be blessed with discomfort

We heard an extraordinary talk this afternoon at our Lenten Luncheon by Dr. Brian Wispelwey, professor of infectious diseases and among the leading clinicians treating patients with HIV/AIDS. He told us of progress but also setbacks in politics that have made it harder to stem the spread of the HIV virus. He also gave us a blessing from the Franciscans. Here it is:

May you be blessed with discomfort
At easy answers, narrow views, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart. 
May you be blessed with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. 
May you be blessed with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
So that you may be one with all who suffer. 
And may you be blessed with boldness
To encounter life in all its extremes and not to shrink back,
So that you may live out God’s sacred intention for your life. Amen.

It has been our privilege to host these luncheons and give you an opportunity to meet and hear some of those most extraordinary, creative – and yes, courageous – individuals from the University of Virginia. We’ve had professors Jim Galloway talking about climate change, Margaret Mohrmann talking about ethics, and last year, President Teresa Sullivan talking about creating the caring community – and some of her travails.

Our extraordinary guest this year is very much a part of this esteemed group. I met Dr. Brian Wispelwey a few years ago when he gave a lecture at what is called the “Mini-Med School,” which is a series of presentations about medicine, designed for lay people, given by clinicians and researchers at the UVA Med School.

In all candor, was not particularly looking forward to Dr Wispelwey’s. His topic: HIV/AIDS. It is a subject that I find difficult. I’ve lost quite a number of friends to HIV/AIDS.

My best friend from childhood, Brian, succumbed to the epidemic. His name and many others who I know are on the AIDS quilt.

So when Dr. Wispelwey began his presentation, I held my breath. And then I was amazed. I left that evening with enormous respect for him and the many researchers, doctors, nurses, social workers and health care professionals who are bringing hope and care to so many people. I left with a better understanding of the possibilities and the challenges.

And I left with hope.

Let me tell you a little about him.

As one writer has noted about Dr. Wispelwey, when other doctors and researchers were fleeing AIDS research in the 1980s, considering it career suicide, Dr. Wispelwey had an epiphany about how to approach the disease.

Dr. Wispelwey was among a handful of doctors at Harvard working on the first trials of the drug AZT. He brought that experience to UVA set up the first AIDS clinic in Central Virginia. In the first 15 years more than 500 people were treated. By the mid-90s, the clinic was considered among the best in the country.

He was the force behind a successful telemedicine program that has brought long-distance care to those suffering from the disease in eight Virginia prisons.

He has many publications to his name and is a renowned and inspiring teacher and professor of infectious diseases at the Medical School. He is also a man of great faith and courage.

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