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Top Doctors in Nashville: Stephen Raffanti, MD

Dr. Stephan Raffanti works from Vanderbilt One Hundred Oaks fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Written By:  Melissa Carro

Photographers:  Mandy Whitley Photography

As seen in Top Doctors in Nashville, July 2013

He drove a furniture truck to work his way through college, but Stephan Raffanti always wanted to be a race car driver. Instead, he found himself helping others in a race for their lives.

Raffanti was in clinical training in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic started. The challenge was intriguing. Just as importantly, the disease was personal. A California native, Raffanti knew the disease would be affecting people he grew up with. In 1990 Raffanti moved to Nashville to organize a city-wide HIV program. He worked with then Mayor Bredesen who had convened a task force on the economic impact of HIV. According to Raffanti, all the major health care players in the city were able to get around the table. Baptist provided the space, and in 1994 an AIDS clinic. That year, over 300 people died from AIDS. By 1996 the mortality rate had dropped 93 percent.

“I see it as a real privilege to have been in the early days of fighting the AIDS epidemic,” says Raffanti. “It’s been a once in a lifetime experience to see a disease turn around as it has. It was not until the 1990s that people started getting well. Now we’ve gone from people dying slow deaths to people going back to work and living out their lives.”

In 2008 the clinic moved to Vanderbilt One Hundred Oaks and in October 2010 became a Vanderbilt clinic. There are satellite clinics in Cookeville and Columbia. Since 1994, the clinic has enrolled 8,000 patients. It actively follows around 3,000 of them. One patient stands out to Raffanti. She had a five-year-old child when she was diagnosed with HIV. She wanted to live long enough to make a video to leave for the child. Instead, she has lived long enough to celebrate her daughter’s high school graduation.

For patients like that, who felt they were on a race against the clock, Raffanti was the right driver at the right time.

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