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Milwaukee AIDS awareness pioneer is retiring

Stephanie Graham, Vince Vitrano

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Milwaukee AIDS awareness pioneer is retiring

CREATED Sep. 25, 2013 - UPDATED: Sep. 25, 2013

MILWAUKEE - Dr. Roger Gremminger loves to get out on the tennis court when he can, but where he's most comfortable is with his patients.

He works at the STD Specialities Clinic on Holton Street.  He started as an emergency room doctor in the late 1970s.

"It really was the area of medicine where you could reflect what was going on in the culture, in society," he recalls.

That desire to make an impact on society translated to Roger focusing on sexually transmitted diseases.  He explains, "It's an extrmely needed area, and I think that's part of my background, is doing something that's not necessarily popular."

Roger was one of the first doctors at the free, BESTD clinic on Brady Street.  Now, after more than 35 years in Milwaukee medicine, he's is retiring.

"It's just been a long time, sad I would leave," he says.

Before retiring, Roger is taking time to reflect with us on his work, especially when it comes to HIV and AIDS awareness.  He recalls, "In those early days we were dealing with a significant amount of denial."

Roger was one of the first doctors in our area to thoroughly study the disease.  He says he was, "a collaborater on studies.  When Abbott Lab was devising their AIDS test, they actually asked me to collect specimens from the clinic."

Bruce lives in the Milwaukee area, and was diagnosed with HIV in 1985.  He says, "At the time when we really needed a doctor like Roger, he was there."

He says he got tested after finding out his partner had the virus.  "It was scary.  There was a whole lot of misinformation."

Bruce had already been friends with Roger for years, and knew he was the best doctor to see first.

"He stepped in, he stepped up to the bat when very few other people did," Bruce says.

Bruce recalls how Roger tried to make sure people were getting tested.  "He looked into the gay community, into the community where most HIV infections were at that time prevalent."

Bruce has some complications, but is doing well overall.  Despite the strides in HIV and AIDS medications, he wants to see people keep up the conversation.

"If people don't talk about it now, they won't think that prevention is important," he explains.

Roger says a promising sign is that more and more young people are coming into the clinic to get tested.  He notes, "If we can diagnose them very early, and get them treated very early, we can decrease the total viral load that they have in their body."

As Roger gets ready to retire, he's thankful for the strides that have been made, and hopeful.

"I think I've probably stimulated a lot of other people to get involved, but it's just... I think it's very rewarding," he says.