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Physical therapists helping AIDS patients (7/23/97)

Physical therapists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are establishing a relationship with the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, one that will benefit patients and, in the long term, students and faculty.

"Apparently many patients are doing better thanks to new drug regimens," said Tom Turturro, assistant professor of physical therapy at the Health Science Center. "Of 24 patients currently at the AIDS Foundation, only two are on hospice care." The foundation is located at 818 E. Grayson, down the street from Fort Sam Houston.

Five patients now at the foundation would benefit from physical therapy evaluation and treatment, Turturro said. "These individuals need physical and occupational therapy services. They also need equipment such as parallel bars."

Turturro was at the AIDS Foundation recently evaluating patient Max Castillo. Turturro asked questions as Max ambled slowly down the hall with a walker. "Now lift the walker over your head," the physical therapist instructed. "Over my head?" the patient asked. "Yes, let's see if you can do it," Turturro answered.

Max lifted the walker, showing he still has arm strength and fair trunk balance. AIDS affected his central nervous system, which impacted primarily his legs.

New medicines called "protease inhibitors" have given Max and other patients renewed hope. He says he has felt relatively well since January 1995--something unheard of a decade ago in patients with symptomatic AIDS. The three-drug "cocktail" that Max is prescribed--currently AZT, 3TC and Viracept--has helped him to fight off the opportunistic infections such as thrush that are characteristic of AIDS.

AIDS, short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). An estimated 22 million adults and children are infected with HIV worldwide, including 14 million in sub- Saharan Africa.

The San Antonio Area Foundation is seeking a grant to buy rehab equipment for the AIDS Foundation. "The issue here is we have decreased mortality in these patients and now we need to strengthen them to live as independently as they can," Turturro said.

"I've been in a wheelchair for over two years," Max said. "When I got sick my weight dropped to 114 pounds, but now I'm up to 161.'' His average weight before his illness was 170-175, he added.

"When I first came here [to the AIDS Foundation], if I saw someone leave it was because they had passed away," he said. "Recently I've seen at least five people leave because they have gotten well enough to leave."

Another patient at the foundation the day of Turturro's visit had fallen to 130 pounds at one time and now weighs 189. He looks healthy, demonstrating that the face of AIDS is changing. However, rehabilitation for these patients is expensive and most are not insured. "That's why we need occupational therapists and physical therapists to volunteer their services," said Ed Mattes, charge nurse at the AIDS Foundation.

Health Science Center physical therapy faculty and students will benefit by studying and learning from AIDS patients such as Max, who turns 43 this month.

Max is pain-free and is responding to the "cocktail" of a protease inhibitor and other medicines. "His upper-body strength is good and his hands are strong," Turturro said. "Just his legs are weak."

"I hope to walk and get my own place," Max said. "And, if I continue to be in good health, I hope to find something to do."

Mattes has seen many patients die in the last five years. "I don't want to say everything is great, because some patients can't take the new protease inhibitors," he said. "But there is hope and we need people to come work with patients like Max."

Contact: Will Sansom (210) 567-2570