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Person 2 Person: Dr. Kristen Ries

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Person 2 Person: Dr. Kristen Ries (Photo provided by Kristen Ries)

(KUTV) Dr. Kristen Ries was on the forefront of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Utah.

She was the first doctor who would treat patients with the disease.

Ries moved to Utah in 1981, the same day the disease was described. Her specialty just happened to be infectious diseases.

"I said, 'I think this is an infectious disease. I better follow this carefully because it's going to be big," Ries recalled.

As the disease progressed in the state, Ries saw her fellow doctors turn away patients with HIV.

"Even one of my friends and colleagues told me, 'Your patients deserve it,'" said Ries.

But Ries would treat them and wasn't afraid to touch her patients. By 1985-1986, she saw her first 50 patients.

"We really believed that every person deserved care, no matter what," she said.

Ries also witnessed a social bias against the people who contracted HIV. Many of her patients were gay, but they weren't the only ones who had HIV.

Ries also treated drug users, transplant patients who got it from blood transfusions, and more.

"I just thought of them as people because I think all people were people first and foremost," she said. "It doesn't matter what group they belonged to."

Ries says it was a "miracle" that she arrived in Utah when she did, although she describes it as "being in the right place, at the right time, with the right training."

She looks back on her career and her time with patients with great emotion.

"I feel really good about what we were able to do and where we are now," she said. "I'm really glad to have met people from all walks of life. And they've made me a better person."

But that time can also be painful for her to remember. Ries worked virtually alone for the first 10 years of the epidemic until Maggie Snyder, a PA, joined her.

"She says I promised her we'd be done every day by five and weekends off," Ries laughed. "But it turned out we were both working 24/7."

Snyder eventually ended up becoming her wife as well.

"Once we retired, I think it took us two years to realize we probably had post-traumatic stress," said Ries. "We feel really good about what we did and wish we could do more even now."

Ries' upbringing was a great influence on her. She grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where her family was "quite poor."

Her parents were Quakers.

"My mother, my father, they were always looking out for other people. And I think it just becomes a part of you," she said.

Ries has no doubt saved many lives, and nearly every week she meets one of her patients or a family member of a patient who thanks her for her work.

"It makes you feel almost inadequate, like you should have done more," she said. "I think many people would be much happier if they gave more to other people."

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