Local Hero – Fred Says

March 23, 2012 by Tails Magazine in April 2012, Chicago with 0 Comments
Dr. Rob Garofalo and Fred

Rob and Fred are raising money to help youths affected by HIV and AIDS. PHOTO: Jesse Freiden

Greeting cards raise money for HIV positive teens
By Brendan Quealy

Sometimes life is tough. Dr. Rob Garofalo knows this, and so do his patients. Garofalo is a pediatrician specializing in treating HIV/AIDS positive adolescents. “From the onset of my career I have always had a passion for working with the underserved youth population, the LGBT community, as well as the homeless,” explains Garofalo. “It has been one of the most exhausting, yet rewarding experiences of my life.”

Since he began this work in 1995, Garofalo has seen the HIV landscape change right in front of his very eyes. Early on, many of his patients were sick and hospitalized, but today he is able to help these young people live normal lives.

Garofalo had his own trials and tribulations to cope with when he was diagnosed with cancer six years ago.“That was a real jolt that kind of rocked my world from a health perspective and psychologically,” he notes. “I just found myself having a really hard time getting up every day and moving forward. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating right. I was letting a series of unfortunate events get to me.”

But one evening while he wasn’t feeling good about himself, Garofalo decided to Google “Puppies and Chicago.” He’d never had a dog in his life, but for some reason, Garofalo immediately fell in love with the cute little Yorkshire Terrier that popped up in the results. Garofalo went to Glenview to see the dog, making sure to bring a friend to keep him from doing anything impulsive. “It happened in like two minutes,” he says. “This dog ran into my lap and I was done.”

“This little thing kind of changed everything for me,” says Garofalo. “I was feeling lonely, and now I have this little being who needed me to be present for him—that helped me get past a lot of what happened.”Garofalo named the dog Fred, and he believes that if he had Fred when he had cancer, he would have healed twice as fast. “I put my focus on him, and the unconditional love and affection that I got in return was very healing,” says Garofalo. “That love led me to combine my passions.”

Public health dollars for a variety of HIV services are tough to get these days because funding has been cut, and Garofalo was tired of writing grant requests and begging people for money. He and the staff at Children’s Memorial created the “Fred Says” e-cards and greeting cards. Garofalo has more than 1,600 pictures of Fred on his iPhone, many of which received rave reviews on Facebook. “People would comment that he should be on greeting cards,” he says. “So we put together a collection of the photos, picked our top 12, and are using them to raise money for charity.”

While he admits he is a good doctor, Garofalo has accepted that he knows very little about business. You wouldn’t know it though—within the first three months, the campaign raised more than $3,000 to support HIV positive teens who need help paying their medical bills. “I’ve invested all of my own money in this to get it started and I have not even come close to making that money back,” says Garofalo. “But I am committed to having 90 percent of the proceeds go to charity because I know that this is not a sprint—it’s a marathon.”

Garofalo sees great things in the future for the “Fred Says” campaign. He hopes to one day officially become a foundation supporting HIV services across the country. “Neither Fred nor I are heroes,” says Garofalo. “The real heroes are the kids that live with HIV everyday—their courage and perseverance is amazing. Fred and I are just trying to help.”

Additional information at FredSays.org

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