LOS ANGELES, Oct. 1 (UPI) —
Dick Donato has revealed he is HIV-positive.
The 51-year-old Big Brother 8 winner will go public with his diagnosis on Wednesday’s episode of Couples Therapy. Donato will appear on the VH1 reality series with on-and-off girlfriend Stephanie Rogness-Fischer, and detailed his journey in an interview with People ahead of the episode.
Donato was competing on Big Brother 13 in 2011 when the show’s producers told him his blood test came back inconclusive for HIV. The reality star had his blood re-tested, and "went numb" when the result was positive. He abruptly left the series with little explanation, and immediately visited his mother to break the news.
"My biggest fear was telling my girlfriend," Donato told the magazine. "We had this long discussion, and I figured she would freak out. But she was really understanding about the whole thing. She said, ‘Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.’ She was tested and it came back negative. It was an incredible relief."
"People are going to make assumptions about how I got it, and that’s okay," he continued. "People are afraid to come forward because they’re afraid of the stigma of HIV. I’m not gay and I’ve never stuck a needle in my arm, but at this point it doesn’t matter. We create a stigma around the disease that makes it hard for people to publicly say they have it."
Donato said being diagnosed was "like being blindfolded and spun around 100 times, then being left in a dark room." He spent time trying to figure out the right doctors and medications, all the while keeping his diagnosis a secret. He eventually came forward for himself and to help others, and leads "a very normal life" with the help of medication.
Couples Therapy airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on VH1.