Community Volunteer Excels at Steer Wrestling

Tom Silvia recently returned to Providence, Rhode Island, after a trip to Florida. But he wasn’t on vacation for the typical Floridian activities of visiting Disney or sunbathing on one of the Sunshine State’s many beaches. Silvia was a contestant in a chute dogging competition at a rodeo in Fort Lauderdale.

“Chute dogging is steer wrestling or taking a steer down to the ground,” Silvia says. “I competed in the Sunshine Stampede and took first place in the event of chute dogging.”

Steer wrestling is one of the many ways Silvia spends his free time. Since 2007, he has volunteered on the Community Advisory Board (CAB) at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network’s site at the Miriam Hospital in Providence.

“I wanted to take an active role in the gay community and to help those less fortunate,” he says about his motivation for joining the CAB. “I was asked by a few CAB members if I wanted to join after attending a couple of meetings. I really enjoyed the purpose of the group and the difference it can make in people’s lives.”

The primary purpose of the Miriam CAB is to review ACTG studies, giving researchers feedback about whether or not the trial is a good fit for both patients and the Providence site.

“I have been involved with some of the recent decisions the CAB has made on upcoming studies,” Silvia says. “The review process is labor intensive with a large amount of reading. However, we often meet as a group to review information presented, and collectively, we are able to dissect the study and come to an agreement on the value of participating in the trial.”

Deborah Good is the Miriam site’s Community Coordinator. She says Silvia is an asset to the CAB.

“Besides being a kind and sincere human being, as a dedicated CAB member Tom has sometimes been the voice of reason and a problem solver,” says Good. “We are grateful he is a part of the CAB.”

ACTG study A5240 led by Miriam researchers was recently published proving that giving women living with HIV the human papilloma virus or HPV vaccine was safe and effective in preventing cervical cancer. Silvia was proud to learn of the results coming out of his ACTG site and he said it makes the hard work the CAB does in reviewing studies all worthwhile.

“I would recommend to others to join their local CAB,” Silvia says. “It does take commitment and I often find myself juggling my career, day-to-day activities and hobbies to fit my obligations with the CAB into my everyday life. But the relationships that I have made with my fellow CAB members reaffirm why I am there and the importance of the work we do for everyone living with HIV.”

David Gonsalves serves on the Miriam CAB with Silvia.

“Tom never ceases to amaze me,” Gonsalves says. “He's smart, witty and very energetic. His Rodeo adventures tickle my imagination. It's delightful to know him as a Portuguese cultured man with a big American cowboy spirit. We're all proud and pleased to have him on board as one of our members."

Looking toward the future of ACTG studies, Silvia hopes the Network focuses its scientific agenda on co-infections, like hepatitis C virus, and cure research. He will continue to attend his CAB’s monthly meetings as well as carve out time for steer wrestling competitions.

“I look forward to competing in the gay games this summer in Cleveland, Ohio,” says Silvia. “For the first time, there will be a rodeo component to the games and I will steer wrestle.”