HIV-positive doctor says ‘miracle’ dog saved his life

Martha Irvine
Associated Press

Chicago — Rob Garofalo was devastated. He’d built his medical and research career on helping young AIDS patients. Then he learned that he, too, was HIV-positive. The news came after he’d already survived kidney cancer and a breakup with his longtime partner.

Try as he might, the doctor could not heal himself, at least not emotionally.

Garofalo, who heads the adolescent medicine division at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, recalls crying on much of the flight home in a catharsis that led him to an unexpected decision. He got a dog, a little Yorkshire terrier he named Fred. And everything changed.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that he saved my life,” Garofalo says.

His journey back to life started with simple things. He had to leave the apartment where he’d isolated himself to buy food for Fred. He had to talk to the many people who wanted to stop and pet the little dog. As his energy level grew, he also started a charity using Fred’s image to raise money for programs that help HIV-positive teens.

He began a project called “When Dogs Heal,” with the help of a photographer named Jesse Freidin and a writer named Zach Stafford. It tells the stories of HIV-positive people and their dogs in an exhibit launching in Chicago on Tuesday which is World AIDS Day.

An HIV-positive teen in Los Angeles recently wrote Garofalo a letter to thank him and his Fred-inspired charity for providing money so he could buy a much-needed pair of shoes. “The initiative you started because of a dream, a prayer and a dog has blessed me,” the teen wrote.

Even now, Garofalo gets emotional when he tells the story of coming downstairs to find his mother cradling the dog.

“My mom was telling him that he was a miracle,” Garofalo says, his eyes reddening, “because he had brought her son back.”