Rick and Bruno

Growing up gay in South Philadelphia during the 1960s was challenging. I was labeled a “fairy” and it was hard to make friends. It wasn’t until high school that I realized there were other people out there like me.

As I got older, I watched other gay men become sickly and waste away from AIDS. They called it “gay cancer” at the time. I was so scared of contracting HIV that I refused to get tested for years. Then, when my partner spotted a purple lesion on my leg, I knew I couldn’t hide from it anymore.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with HIV. I thought it was the end, but as it turns out, it was only the beginning. When I first came to the Lax Center, people would hug me and assure me everything was going to be okay. So many people at FIGHT just loved me, until I could learn to love myself more. I found out HIV was not a death sentence—it was just a part of my story.

HIV has taught me to live in the present moment. Every morning, I wake up and decide I’m going to be happy. I love to cook, eat, and travel, but the thing that brings me the most joy is spending time with my dog, Louie. Louie has been a big part of my healing process. Taking care of him helps me take better care of myself.

In 2017, I started working part-time as a front desk receptionist at FIGHT. Here, I’m able to help others find their way. I’ve been able to comfort people who are nervous about getting tested for HIV. For those who test positive for HIV, I am living proof that there is life after a diagnosis. 

For a long time, I didn’t accept myself. I would ask God to make me a different person. I’m glad that never happened because I love myself for who I am now, and I love the family I’ve gained at FIGHT. My diagnosis has helped to make me a stronger, more spiritual person. I guess I’m not doing so bad for an old show gal. 

Spotlight On

Karam Mounzer, MD

Dr. Mounzer identified two major gaps in the care of patients with HIV/hepatitis C (HCV) co-infection, and the complexity of multidrug-resistant HIV treatment. He is involved with many clinical trials focusing on drug development and better understanding of HIV immunopathogenesis with the Wistar Institute. He is involved in teaching and mentoring.

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Dr. Karam Mounzer

Dr. Mario Cruz

Dr. Mario CruzDr. Cruz is a board certified pediatrician who serves as the Medical Director for our Pediatrics and Adolescent Health Center. He has presented and/or published in the fields of community violence and domestic violence prevention, quality improvement, behavioral health, curriculum development and mentorship. In 2019 he received the Greater Philadelphia Social Innovation Award for Innovations in Healthcare.

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