St. John’s Alumnus Pharmacist Champions the Rights of HIV:AIDS Patients

John Kaliabakos ’94P launched his pharmacy career just after graduating from St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, when New York City was engulfed in the devastating HIV/AIDS crisis.

His new employer was Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy specializing in HIV care on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, an epicenter of the deadly disease.

“In no time, I couldn’t help but feel an enormous sense of compassion for the patients that I got to know personally as they came to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions or to seek medical advice,” recalled Mr. Kaliabakos of his earliest days as a pharmacist. “I witnessed the fear and uncertainty that this population experienced upon their diagnosis, and I had the misfortune of losing some patients in the battle with their illness.”

“This firsthand experience in helping patients navigate through the trials and tribulations of HIV/AIDS was very impactful for me as a pharmacist,” he added. “It led me to become not only the best provider of pharmacy services that I could, but also an advocate for these patients’ rights and needs.”

Nearly 30 years later, Mr. Kaliabakos remains an integral part of Village Apothecary, serving in the role of Director of Pharmacy Services, as he oversees the prescription profiles of more than 500 HIV patients while in consultation with HIV specialists in New York City. He has built a reputation as a fierce champion of the rights of these and other patients, with a particular focus on those most in need—a bedrock of St. John’s Vincentian mission.

“As a student at St. John’s, my values as a Greek Orthodox Christian were bolstered by the University’s Vincentian mission,” said Mr. Kaliabakos, who was born to Greek immigrant parents and raised in Queens, NY.

He attended The Bronx High School of Science from 1985 to 1989 before earning a bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences at St. John’s.

Under the mentorship and leadership of Michael Konnon, a community leader, activist, and founder of Village Apothecary, who recruited him to work at the pharmacy, Mr. Kaliabakos honed his dedication to serving the needs of the pharmacy’s HIV/AIDS patients. The establishment continued to burnish its reputation of stocking all AIDS and AIDS-related medications, while assisting patients as they navigated the vast financial and emotional burdens of the disease.

“As a pharmacist, I truly believed in Mike’s mission and still honor it in my practice every day,” said Mr. Kaliabakos. “In my years so far at Village Apothecary, the pharmacy has been recognized for outstanding service by proclamations from the New York City Mayor’s Office, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate, the Greenwich Village Society for Village Preservation, and the New York City Council’s Office.”

In his own right, Mr. Kaliabakos was recognized in 2022 for his work in the field of HIV pharmaceutical care with the Gay City News Impact Award, which spotlights individuals, according to the award description, “who make a difference and leave people better than they found them.” This year, he received the Schneps Media Healthcare Heroes Award “for contributions and dedication to the health-care community.”

“I am truly honored and humbled by these professional acknowledgements,” said the pharmacist. “But ultimately what I find most rewarding is the appreciation and connection that I have with the patients I serve on a daily basis.”

Mr. Kaliabakos, who is married to Polyxeni Mertsaris Kaliabakos ’93P, expressed gratitude to St. John’s University for helping to shape his career as an advocate for his HIV/AIDS patients. “St. John’s has been an incredibly important part of my life, and the five years I spent there as a student have shaped me into the person I am today,” he said.

Originally published by St. John’s University. June 2023.

John Kaliabakos

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