HIV / AIDS patientsFor Francine Robinson, 1997 was a memorable year. Her four-year marriage fell apart; her two-month-long cold turned out to be HIV; and she had significant difficulty adjusting to her new drug regimen. Two years later, she walked into Siloam, an organization where a combination of support, community and massage helped her begin the healing process.

Siloam is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides integrated programs that complement traditional medicine. It was co-founded in 1995 by Sister Bernadette Kinniry, R.S.M., and Father Don O’Reilly, O.S.A.

A hopeful environment

After meeting a homeless transgender youth and a man with AIDS, Kinniry felt a deep calling to “work with people on the edge,” she said. “[These individuals] challenged me to go deeper … I needed to get involved.”

Today, Siloam focuses on mind, body and spirit through support groups, educational seminars, retreats, meditation groups and complementary therapies, all presented in a safe, caring, hopeful environment for individuals infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

In addition to support groups and educational and nutritional programs, Siloam offers massage, reiki, tai chi and yoga. Certified practitioners volunteer their time. All services are provided at no charge to the client.

Dedicated volunteers

For 19 years, Patricia McDonough has volunteered her massage services at Siloam every Thursday. “When I became a massage therapist, my mission was to serve the HIV/AIDS community,” she said. “AIDS was a death sentence then. People were so marginalized. One of the first people I massaged hadn’t been touched in three years.”

During her almost two decades at Siloam, McDonough said, she has been privileged to work with many repeat clients as well as some newcomers. She said she has learned a tremendous lesson from these individuals. “They know that we care and are very appreciative,” she shared.

Caring touch for HIV/AIDS patients

When Robinson first started going to Siloam, she began with a support group. “My spirit was severely fractured [in the beginning],” she said. Soon she took advantage of other services, including massage. She had received massage prior to her diagnosis, and understood the importance of relaxation, particularly under her current health circumstances. 

“This is a luxury I’ve grown accustomed to,” Robinson said. “The massage lifts my spirit, soothes my body and comforts my mind … my whole body is taken care of.”

Massage for clients at Siloam does not differ from that applied in any other setting. “It’s important that the client knows someone cares,” said McDonough. “The idea is to give safe touch. It’s inspiring to know a simple thing you do can make a difference.”

About the Author 

Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Holistic Medicine Team Promotes Integrative Care.”