In Salt Lake City, Utah, the religious monoculture severely complicated the AIDS crisis, where patients received no support from — or were cast into exile by — the political, religious, and medical communities. Further, Mormon culture encouraged gay men to marry women and have a family to cure themselves of their “affliction,” counsel which led to secret affairs and accidental marital transmissions of HIV. In the entire state and intermountain region there was only one doctor to serve all HIV/AIDS patients. This is the story of her fight to save the lives of a maligned population everyone else seemed willing to just let die.
Dr. Kristen Ries came to Salt Lake City with the hope and ambition to set up a medical practice of her own. By chance, she arrived on the exact same day the CDC released a report about a new infectious disease affecting populations of gay men. This intrigued Dr. Ries and she launched her long career as the premier specialist who treated HIV/AIDS patients. What started as hospice care for highly stigmatized individuals became a model for compassionate care at the height of the AIDS epidemic. She faced stigma and blame in a repressive religious culture and had to find creative ways to serve her patients. She and her Physician’s Assistant, Maggie Snyder, developed backdoor patient arrangements, underground drug markets, and status confidentiality policies to give their patients the best possible chance at prolonging their lives—or at worst, dying comfortably. When their families, their churches and social circles, their politicians, and even other doctors had abandoned them, Kristen Ries and Maggie Snyder created a safe haven amidst a sea of hate and fear for those who had nowhere else to turn.