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Podcast Transcript: Dr. Victoria Cargill

Dr. Cargill speaking at the exhibition opening

Elizabeth Cohen: Good morning and welcome. My name is Elizabeth Cohen and I am a medical correspondent with CNN Television and I am proud and honored to be the MC of this event today.

Elizabeth Cohen: We're going to hear next from someone else whose work is in the exhibit who also says that her career was quite unplanned and I'll let her give more details, but here name is Dr. Victoria Cargill, and she is Director of Clinical Studies and Director of Minority Research at the NIH Office of AIDS research here in Bethesda. She is the founding Director of Stopping AIDS is My Mission, which is an AIDS education program, and it's assisted tens of thousands of young people of color in the Cleveland area. And she continues to treat HIV and AIDS patients in Southeast DC. So, let's hear now from Dr. Cargill.

Dr Cargill: Good Morning. It's wonderful to see so many young people here and have enthusiasm, although it does make me feel old to say 'young people' as I sort of dodder up here. It is funny to hear someone say, "if you don't plan your life you can save hundreds of thousands and millions of people." Because I will say that my life reflected planning, no planning and sheer plain old everyday luck. Bernie Lown, you saw on the tape there. I was fortunate enough to be a resident at the Robert Breck Brigham Hospital before it was Brigham and Women's and Dr. Lown, I will never forget my time with him because every time I'd complain about a patient didn't take this medicine or a patient didn't have this... he would say, "Well Victoria, if you're so concerned about the health, what's going on at home? What are you going to do about it Victoria?" "I would like you to get out of my face, that's what Victoria would like, [Laughter] because I haven't slept all night and I'm not in the mood for this." [Laughter]

Dr Cargill: When I left my training I thought the last thing I wanted to do was to go back and have one more person tell me one more day what to do. And so I bucked the trend of everybody else. As you will hear, when people go to medical school and residency this group of overachievers they go right to fellowships. Not this puppy. Nope, I wanted to be a doctor since I was nine. I'm going in the community and chose Jamaica Plain and I lived in that community to take care of patients. And I encountered exactly what you've heard before. I encountered people who, I could write all the prescriptions in the world, their blood pressure wasn't controlled. Because I didn't take the time to learn that they weren't going to tell me that they were going to see the spiritista down the street. So they weren't going to take my pills. I learned that there were young people who were developing horrible ear infections and everybody considered them dispensable because they didn't speak the language of the community, they had a different color skin, they were poor. All the same things that we still see in our country today. But there was a pediatrician who worked with me and she said, "We need to start figuring out how these kids get these ear infections." And we made a little map, Jamaica Plain, and what did we discover, that they were going in the water in certain pools, and if water isn't changed it grows certain kinds of bacteria and sure enough the water in that pool matched what we were getting out of the ears. And it was a simple intervention to go to the city and say, "you have to clean this up." And that's what we did.

Dr Cargill: Well, now, you know, I was king. OK, the squirrel found, the blind squirrel found an acorn, what can I do next? Went off to a fellowship and thought for sure I was going to conquer colon cancer because urban inner city people weren't being screened for it. Until one person said that, there's this disease HIV, they don't have any epidemiologists down at the city health department, why don't you just go in and sit in for a day and see if you can give them a little suggestion. I haven't seen a colon cancer research since. Because a suggestion was made to me, if I thought this disease is so preventable, why didn't I go to the school and talk to the kids about it. And that I did. And I got a really good education. I had teachers at the back of the classroom shouting me down saying, "you don't need to talk to these kids, 'cause there's no punks here." Code for persons of one sex having sex with someone of the same sex. I had another teacher tell me, "oh no, you can't teach this in my class," it was health class, you know that code for getting sex diseases, couldn't talk there. Then I went to the librarians, so you know if you're going to do it in the library you have to go in the corner and shhh you have to be quiet. How can you be quiet talking about condoms to 15 year olds? So where did I end up? I ended up on the corner outside the school with a slew of kids around me sitting on the trunk of a very beat up, old, grizzly Mazda. And when I looked up, I realized, directly in my line of sight was the crack man across the street dealing crack cocaine. And I thought now this is something, I'm trying to prevent disease and he's out here dealing stuff to do disease. So I came to this whole idea to educate kids and everybody I went to said that's a great idea Dr. Cargill, sure wish we had money for it.

Dr Cargill: I come from a long line of people and a family where the motto was: 'no' and 'I can't' doesn't work in this house. So I went down to our handy dandy legal colleagues, I was able to moonlight between the hours of midnight when I got home from my job and four o'clock in the morning to read charts of litigation, and I saved every penny of that and I collared, strong-armed, berated, six or seven colleagues including two people who are friends living with HIV infection. We started this idea of Stopping AIDS is My Mission. You know, it's not anybody's fault, you just gotta stop it. Do something, talk to somebody, you can talk to them about your shoes, you can tell them about your Nikes, tell them how to be safe.

Dr Cargill: We started with 15 kids and a DJ that the kids didn't know we educated. When I turned the program over we were through 75 thousand kids. I went back to Cleveland this past weekend and met a young woman who I recognized because she was in our first class. And she's the director of the program who is now stepping down so that she can go on and have her family.

Dr Cargill: So, I say that to say that when people tell you "no," you have to decide can you hear no as it's impossible or do you hear a no as watch me find a way around this, because you heard it here first, I still take care of patients with disease in southeast DC. I still try and find ways to reach to people, I have people who give me all long lists of boo hoo about how they can't come to the clinic. They're a little surprised when they walk out their front door and discover a black woman in a little car with an ADC map of Washington DC saying, "Yo, did you forget to be someplace today?" So, all that to say, you can make a difference and I prefer to think that no translates into my mind, just to switch it the other way, on. If you told me no, you just told me bring it on. Thank you.


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