Prison inmates. Burn victims. Terminally ill children. These are just a few of the types of patients Ilene Wiggins, RN, has treated during her career as a nurse in Baltimore. Caring for these patients can be emotionally taxing, but Wiggins says she felt it was her calling.
“I felt I had a gift for making people feel better, not with medication or task, but with caring, compassion and honesty,” Wiggins says. “To make someone smile on what may be one of the worst days of their lives is an accomplishment.”
Men and women living with HIV in Baltimore is the patient population Wiggins has served the most over the years. From 1992-1994, she visited the city’s prisons, enrolling inmates in the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network’s Johns Hopkins University site’s HIV studies. In 2003, she became the study coordinator for the ACTG’s Johns Hopkins site, a role she has held ever since.
“I witnessed firsthand the medical hysteria when HIV was named and how people were initially treated when they had it,” Wiggins says. “I witnessed the devastation caused by the additional years it took to safeguard the blood supply and transfusions. When presented with the opportunity to become a researcher, I took it after I thought about the whole ‘guinea pig’ question. I had to make sure I wasn’t doing that to people and I figured being on the inside of developing these research studies would ensure that.”
Charles Flexner, MD, leads the Johns Hopkins University Clinical Research Site.
“Ilene sets high standards for herself and expects the same from the people around her,” Flexner says. “She has a terrific perspective on the research process. She knows how to gain the interest of study participants and keep them enrolled in trials.”
Dorcas Baker, RN, is the Site Director for the Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic AIDS Education and Training Center. However before she took this position, she worked for 14 years with Wiggins as a research nurse at the ACTG Johns Hopkins site.
“She was a great person to work with and a dedicated research nurse,” says Baker. “What I loved most about Ilene, was that she did everything with excellence…paid attention to details and rarely missed anything. Our work relationship evolved into a lasting friendship as well.”
Wiggins has served as a field representative on three ACTG studies. Field representatives do not develop the studies, but they do give input to make the study run smoothly and help the protocol team with study implementation at the site level. For example, a field representative would read over the proposed summary of tasks to be completed during a participant’s study visit and give feedback as to whether or not this list is feasible. She is hopeful future studies focus on a cure.
“We have accomplished making HIV a chronic disease, but I’d like to see us working toward a cure,” Wiggins says. “I would like to see us accomplish eradication just as we are approaching with the hepatitis C virus.”
When she is not working at the ACTG Johns Hopkins site, Wiggins enjoys writing poetry and shadow boxing African art.