25 Years of Care and Compassion Leads to Gift Supporting HIV Research

Sherri Wrobell first came to Rush following an HIV diagnosis. That was 25 years ago. Wrobell credits her physician for maintaining her health since then.

Sherri Wrobell found comfort and compassion with Beverly Sha, MD, professor of internal medicine at Rush, during an extremely challenging time. Wrobell had lost her husband, Glen, only four months after they were married. Glen was diagnosed with full blown AIDS shortly before he died, and Wrobell discovered then that she had HIV. It was 1993, and few treatment choices were available, especially for women. But Sha was one of few health care professionals who were trying to find specific care options for women with the virus.

“When I first saw her 25 years ago, she told me she’d keep me as healthy as possible, and that she was hopeful new treatments being evaluated would make this a chronic but manageable condition,” Wrobell said about Sha. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her.”

Wrobell joined a long-term study Sha and colleagues collaborated on called the Women’s Interagency HIV Study, a National Institutes of Health-funded effort to evaluate the short-term and long-term effects of HIV in women. The study investigates the psychological, social and physiological aspects of HIV infection in women with hope of preventing as many complications as possible related to the condition. Sha was able to find the best available treatments for Wrobell thanks to her involvement in HIV research. Since then Sha fulfilled her pledge from 25 years ago: Wrobell shows no detectable HIV in her blood today.

To enable Sha’s work to grow even further and reach more people, Wrobell recently established a research and education fund honoring her beloved doctor and providing much-needed support for Sha’s HIV research and treatment efforts.

“It definitely gives me the flexibility to do some things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” Sha said. “It’s the first time in my career that a patient has made such a generous gift. It’s very meaningful. And knowing her, it makes sense that she would want to help other people who are facing what she faced.”

Over the years, Wrobell and Sha have both seen a dramatic evolution in care choices for people with HIV. Early in her treatment, Wrobell had to take eight different pills several times a day. Today she takes one pill once a day. 

“I started my training in 1986, one year after HIV the virus was discovered and when there were no FDA-approved medicines for treatment,” Sha said. “Since then I’ve watched every drug come to market, and we’ve come a very long way. While there is still a lot of work to be done to test people, prevent infection and cure the disease, we can now manage it as a chronic condition like diabetes or hypertension.”

Wrobell still keeps in regular touch with Sha. In addition to twice-a-year visits, they correspond if new therapies or treatments become available and just to catch up. Wrobell describes seeing Sha as “visiting family.”

“I’ve always called her my angel,” Wrobell said about Sha. “She has a presence about her that you feel enveloped in her love. I’m very fortunate to have found her, especially when there were so few choices.”

To learn more about supporting Sha’s research, please contact Anthony D’Andrea at (312) 563-9059 and anthony_d’andrea@rush.edu.

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