Rob Garofalo, a doctor that built his own medical and research career on assisting people that are HIV positive, got news no one wants. He himself became HIV positive, and all of this after already surviving kidney cancer and a breakup with his longtime partner.
Garofalo had spent what must have felt like a life time trying to help those affected y HIV heal. Countless hours of helping others and years of medical training, and the doctor found himself in a awkward situation. What does a doctor do when he can’t heal himself?
“I couldn’t afford myself the same compassion that I’d spent a career teaching other people to have,” says Garofalo.
He had a very hard time tell people about his HIV status at first. On a Christmas visit in 2010, he tried his best to hide his feelings, but his mother knew something was up. Before he left for home that holiday season, she said to him, “You can tell me that everything is OK, but it’s not.”
On the flight home to Chicago, he remembers doing a lot of crying, but it was a good thing. He came to the realization that he needed help that another human just couldn’t provide. So the doctor got a dog.
When he got Fred, an adorable little Yorkie, things started to change.
“I had this little bundle of, like, pure joy,” Garofalo said. “He made me re-engage with the world. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that he saved my life.”
The re-emergence into life for the doctor started with small and simple things. He couldn’t just stay in his apartment all day when not at work. He had to go to the store and get food for Fred. They had to go on walks, and when they would he had to deal with the people he’d pass by, that wanted to interact with him and the dog. And when the night terror struck, he says it’s nice to have Fred near to help settle things down.
All of these small, every day things got his life jump started again. He sought counseling, and even told his mother and friends about his HIV. Now, he has a charity that he started, using Fred as a mascot, that raises money for helps people that are HIV-positive with some of the emotional issues they have.
He started something called When Dogs Heal. He recruiteda dog photographer named Jesse Freidin and a writer from Chicago named Zach Stafford. When Dogs Heal shares the stories of HIV positive people and their dogs. They also have an exhibit that starts in Chicago on December 1st, which is World AIDS Day, and then in New York later.
The exhibit shares many stories, but one from a young mom from Los Angeles named Lynnea Garbutt, and her dog Coconut. Thanks to Coconut, Garbutt was able to leave an abusive relationship, and prepare her for being able to care for her daughter, who just turned one. Thanks to modern medical intervention, her daughter is NOT HIV positive.
“I would be in bed and not want to get up, but this little doggy was whining, licking my neck and needed to get outside. I had to get up,” said Garbutt.
Garofalo has certainly been through a lot. However, thanks to Fred, things for him and many other affected by HIV are a little more manageable. His own mother even credits Fred with her son’s turnaround.
“My mom was telling him that he was a miracle,” Garofalo said. “Because he had brought her son back.”