At this Sunday's 26th annual AIDS Walk L.A., a Glendale native and longtime AIDS community health-care worker will not be walking — she'll be rolling.
Dorothy Caruso-Herman now uses a wheelchair to get around as a longtime battle with Multiple Sclerosis has taken its toll on her joints, but the disease has done nothing to dampen her spirits or enthusiasm for giving care to those most in need.
She has been working with AIDS patients since the early 1980s when she provided in-home end-of-life care for terminal patients as a hospice nurse. This was at a time when little was known about AIDS and its transmission, fostering a public fear that stigmatized and isolated those stricken with it. Caruso-Herman recalled an example of the sad hysteria of the time.
"A fellow nurse had a neighbor who wouldn't let their children play together because she worked with AIDS patients," said Caruso-Herman. "It was awful."
At the same time, her friends Nancy Rez (wife of former Glendale city manager Jim Rez) and Mary Lu Coughlin were championing an emerging treatment option known as "holistic health," she said.
Rez, a registered nurse, and Coughlin, a teacher, recognized that complete health care went beyond visits to the doctor and pharmaceuticals. They sought to treat the person as well as the disease.
They started by conducting workshops for hospice caregivers like Caruso-Herman, and began to look for a place to call home from which they could offer their vision to the community.
In 1986 they found a house at 540 W. Broadway in Glendale and founded WellnessWorks Holistic Health Center. Their holistic approach sought to complement standard medical treatment with counseling, acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga and several other nontraditional approaches, she said.
The nonprofit WellnessWorks is still going strong, she said, and its members will be participating in force at Sunday's AIDS Walk L.A. Co-founder Coughlin has joined with fellow board members Jack Leonard, Kathy Lynch and Caruso-Herman to create a "team" for the event that will raise money for the center. This year, the team will be walking in honor of co-founder Nancy Rez, who died in 2008.
They are marching in honor of her colleague and friend because "as a nurse and a mother, she recognized the enormous need of this population of people suffering with HIV and AIDS to be touched and cared for with compassion and love," Coughlin said.
Caruso-Herman sees working with the terminally ill as a privilege.
"While most people are waiting for time to pass — How long until lunch break? How long until five o'clock? How long until the weekend? — these people appreciate every moment," she said. "It's a gift to me to share my time with them."
What: WellnessWorks Holistic Health Center
Where: 540 W. Broadway, Glendale
Contact: (818) 247-5125 or visit http://www.wellnessworksglendale.org
What: AIDS Walk Los Angeles
When: Registration is at 8 a.m. with walk at 10 a.m. Sunday
Where: West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood
Contact: (213) 201-WALK (9255) or http://www.aidswalk.net/losangeles