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Broward hair transplant surgeon accused of HIV bias

A Hialeah man who is HIV-positive has filed suit against a Broward hair transplant surgeon, claiming he was illegally denied a treatment because of his illness.

BY DAVID SMILEY, dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

delrio Diego Del Rio thought he had finally found his Fountain of Youth.

Tucked between advertisements for Gay Days and pictures of scantily clad men, the 28-year-old from Hialeah says he saw an ad that brought him back nine years to the last time he could run his hand through a full head of hair.

The ad, Del Rio says, was for a Fort Lauderdale doctor who claims to perform hair transplant surgeries comprehensive enough to finish the job most times in one shot, rather than two or three.

Already the recipient of one mildly successful hair transplant, Del Rio said he jumped at the chance for a second and hopefully final surgery under the hands of Dr. Brett Bolton.

But two months later, Del Rio is spending the money he saved for a transplant on an attorney and is headed not toward rejuvenation but litigation.

In a lawsuit filed this week, Del Rio says he was refused a hair transplant by Bolton of the Age Defying Surgical Center on the grounds that Del Rio is HIV-positive.

According to the suit, the two men met June 3 and Del Rio, who has been HIV-positive the last eight years, allegedly discussed the procedure with Bolton, underwent a brief scalp examination and told him about his condition.

The complaint states that Bolton told Del Rio he would contact him June 5 with a price.

But Del Rio says June 5 came and there was no call. After a series of calls to the center, he says, a ''staffing medical coordinator'' told him over the phone that the office would not treat him due to a policy concerning patients with a history of HIV or Hepatitis.

Del Rio, who is suing for $15,000 or more in damages, said he has never been ''belittled and disrespected'' like he was by Bolton and his staff.

''He just turned around and said our policy is we do not accept any patients that have HIV or a history of hepatitis,'' Del Rio said. ``I was completely perplexed. Just because I'm an HIV positive individual doesn't make me less of an individual than anyone else.''

Bolton, who according to his website has specialized in hair transplant surgeries since 1997, did not respond to a message left Wednesday at his office. His attorney, Gabriel Imperato, also did not return a message seeking comment.

According to the Florida Health Department, state laws prohibit discriminating against a patient solely on the basis of illness.

Department spokeswoman Eulinda Smith, speaking generally about state regulations, said a doctor can use case-by-case judgment on whether a patient can receive treatment.

However, she said denying someone treatment simply because he is HIV-positive is against state law.

''HIV patients are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act,'' said Smith.

``They can not be denied any service solely on the fact that they are HIV positive.''

Del Rio, according to the complaint, told Bolton he was healthy enough to undergo the procedure without complications.

Del Rio's attorney, Matthew Dietz, said that as a doctor, Bolton is guilty of practicing by old wives' tales that plagued HIV and AIDS patients decades ago.

''This goes back to when I was a teen and people were concerned about being near somebody with AIDS or sharing a cup or seat -- myths that were prevalent in the 1980s,'' he said.

``To have a doctor with a medical profession license in Florida give any credence to that is absolutely outrageous.''

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Mr. Smiley, I hope that you continue to follow through with this story because it is my deepest wish that every doctor out there realizes that it is WRONG to deny a person any kind of medical procedure due to their HIV status. Discrimination of any kind is wrong and we have to fight it!

thanks for sharing about it.

Nobody should be denied a surgery based on their being HIV positive. This is disgusting to me!

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