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Dr. Hollis Howell, Dr. Patrice Coons and Dr. Chris Fabre
(L-R) Dr. Hollis Howell, Dr. Patrice Coons and Dr. Chris Fabre

The Right Kind of Aid
Trio of alumni provide dental care to HIV-positive patients

December 2002

You may not know the name Kimberly Bergalis, but you probably know something of her story. The young college graduate died of AIDS in 1991. She was the first person to contract the disease from a health care provider, her dentist.

Bergalisí death sparked a public outcry. Many patients wanted their dentists screened for HIV; many dentists didnít want to treat HIV-positive patients. Thousands of men and women scrambled to find adequate health care.

Chris Fabre, D.D.S., provided it. The 1988 Dental School graduate launched what is now the Jack Sansing HIV Dental Clinic in Austin. "The clinic opened its doors in 1992. At that time there was an incredible need for dentists who would treat HIV patients," Dr. Fabre said. "It was a little overwhelming at first. Initially we had too many patients and only me and a hygienist to treat them."

But the clinic received tremendous support. By 1995, Dr. Fabre had a paid, professional staff including 1993 Dental School graduate M. Hollis Howell, D.D.S. "Hollis graduated at the top of her class. She could have done anything she wanted to, but she chose to come work with us," Dr. Fabre said.

Patrice Coons, D.D.S., a 1981 graduate, came to Austin to join the team a few years later. She had a 15-year history in private practice and now serves as clinical director.

The three graduates never knew each other before working at the clinic. Now they enjoy a unique camaraderie practicing dentistry together, sharing in their desire to help those in need. They offer their services four-and-a-half days a week, provide dental care on a sliding fee scale and offer a medical haven for those with specialized needs. "We are proud to provide top-quality, state-of-the-art dentistry in an environment more like a traditional, upscale dental practice than a public health clinic," Dr. Coons said. "Itís not uncommon to see examples of artwork, poetry, handicrafts, and other creative efforts that our patients bring to share with us. Why, last week, one patient sang for Dr. Howell during a denture adjustment!"

The clinic is one of only a handful dedicated to HIV patients in Texas.



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