June 4, 2013
When Sally Neville was growing up in Terre Haute, she didn't set out to become a nurse.
"I was never going to be a nurse because my mother was a nurse," she said. Neville's mother was Catherine Neville, a graduate of the former St. Anthony's Hospital School of Nursing.
Neville changed her mind after taking a job as an evening ward clerk at St. Anthony's while a student at Schulte High School.
"I ... found myself totally intrigued with everything that was going on. I wanted to know why something was happening with a patient and that's how I decided to go into nursing school," she said.
Neville worked nearly full time while completing a bachelor's degree in nursing at Indiana State University. The day after graduating, she headed west on Interstate 70, stopping in Columbia, Mo., a growing city that boasted seven hospitals.
"I knew I could get a job in Columbia and I ended up staying there for a long time. It was a great city," she recalled.
During a slow night in the intensive care unit at Harry S Truman Veterans Hospital in 1981, Neville read a report from the Centers for Disease Control that intrigued her. It told about men in Los Angeles and New York with Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia.
"Both were extremely rare oncology diseases and there were these two cohorts on either side of the country with both of those diseases and they were all gay," she said. "I remember thinking ‘what the hell does being gay have to do with this?' As an oncology nurse, I knew those things just didn't all of a sudden start happening."
Though she was "hooked" from that moment on the mystery of what would become known as HIV and AIDS, another nine years would pass before Neville took a job at Trinity Lutheran Hospital in Kansas City to work in a unit that was dedicated to HIV and AIDS, a terminal illness at the time.
"I'm a lesbian and I had gay men friends who were sick and dying. It was an opportunity to tackle some of the personal issues related to being gay as well as to tackle societal issues related to being gay," she said.
At Trinity Lutheran, Neville met Justin Suelter, a man then in his 20s who worked at what he called a "gay establishment" in Chicago before moving to Kansas City to care for his sick father.
"All of a sudden, my friends were getting the ‘gay cancer' and my roommate got really sick," Suelter said. "There were a lot of hospitals that weren't even taking people with this mysterious disease because they didn't understand it, but I knew that Trinity Lutheran did. His name was Roger Last and I took him there and he passed."Neville stood by his side throughout his roommate's illness and death, Suelter said.
"I never really got to know her but knew she was a very loving and caring person and very good at what she did."
A few years later, a friend suggested Suelter be tested for HIV and he learned that he, too, had the disease that had killed his loved one. He went to the Kansas City Care Clinic for treatment, found Neville working there, and said she opened his eyes to the risky lifestyle he and his friends were leading by having unprotected sex with multiple partners.
"She was the one who kind of educated me on that and I will never forget how all of this time I felt like ‘Oh, my god, have I been bringing these infections to these people?'" he said.
By the time of Suelter's diagnosis, protease inhibitors had been developed that helped patients live with HIV. Suelter began volunteering at the clinic and later took a job with the facility as a peer counselor. He has spent the last decade working alongside Neville full time.
"She has been one of the most inspirational people I have met in my life," he said.
Neville is director of HIV primary care at the Kansas City Care Clinic and of the Midwest AIDS Training Education Center Missouri regional site. Neville and the clinic have become nationally recognized in the area of HIV and AIDS research and treatment.
"Sally Neville's name is well known in the various halls of Washington D.C. where the funding streams originate," said Dr. Craig Dietz, the clinic's medical director. "The program she has created is a model program. She is frequently asked to consult with other programs throughout the country and do audits and advise other programs trying to get funding."
Neville said "it's a nice feeling, a surprising feeling" to be so recognized. "I love the fact that the clinic is known nationally for the work we do here and the model of care we have developed," she said. "I just feel like I'm so lucky to have been in a position to have been able to contribute."
Sheri Wood, the clinic's chief executive officer, said Neville stands out for her willingness to go beyond patient care to taking on administrative duties. The clinic recently recognized Neville for her 20 years of service.
"She's good at grants writing; she's good at budgeting. She has incorporated the administrative piece to her nursing career as well as patient care and she can go back and forth," Wood said.
Neville currently administers eight clinical trials focusing on HIV patients, one of which focuses on persons co-infected with HIV and hepatitis and two that are observational trials of therapy methods.
By participating in such trials, the clinic generates some much needed revenue while also providing medications to patients who might not otherwise qualify.
Dietz said Neville's work is "what makes HIV healthcare actually happen" - not only in the clinic but regionally.
"We always talk about someone who has a Midwestern work ethic but it's a dying thing to find - someone who comes from the Midwest and really knows how to work hard to change her own life and the lives of others," Dietz said. "Sally has a tireless work ethic. She will work all hours of the night to get the job done and to make sure that all of our services get the funding and support they need."
Neville believes in "a sense of destiny" and that she ended up where she was meant to be.
"You have the opportunity to take advantage of what is put on your plate ... to overcome the obstacles that are put in front of you and ... take advantage of the opportunities," she said. "Being a nurse is an extremely important part of who I am. That started at Indiana State and that has taken me a long way."
Note: This story is condensed from an article in the spring 2013 issue of Indiana State University Magazine, www.isumagazine.com
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Kansas-City-HIV-Nurse/i-TTBBpR3/0/L/205-L.jpg - Sally Neville, an Indiana State University nursing graduate, is director of HIV primary care at the Kansas City Care Clinic and the Midwest AIDS Training Education Center's Missouri regional site. (ISU/Dave Taylor)
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Kansas-City-HIV-Nurse/i-Bghcfk6/0/L/200-L.jpg - Indiana State University nursing graduate Sally Neville, director of HIV primary care and the Midwest AIDS Training Education Center at the Kansas City Care Clinic, reviews records with Jason Suelter, a former patient who now works at the clinic. (ISU/Dave Taylor)
Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Neville, a 1974 graduate of Indiana State University, has devoted the past 20-plus years of her career to the treatment of patients with HIV/AIDS.