In the wake of the death of West Hollywood attorney Brett Shaad on April 13, many citizens worried about the possibility of a meningitis “outbreak” after learning about a strain of meningococcal disease – a rare and sometimes fatal infection of the lining of the brain and spinal chord – that infected nearly two dozen gay men in New York City and killed seven since 2010.
Responding promptly to the community’s fears, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) began offering free meningitis vaccinations on April 15 at its West Hollywood and Hollywood AHF Pharmacy locations, as well as at its Hollywood Men’s Wellness Center on Vermont Avenue. Though AHF was prepared for an initial response of providing 10,000 free vaccinations, the nonprofit did not know just how many concerned members of the public would seek out the vaccinations, nor did it expect the flood of people at the pharmacies on the first two days.
Luckily for AHF, an off-duty superhero – humanitarian and certified medical assistant Joshua Gonzalez, clad that day in a top from a set of pediatric Spiderman scrubs – was one of the people flooding the Sunset Boulevard Pharmacy on Monday. Because the Foundation decided to provide the massive number of vaccinations less than 48 hours before the inoculations began, the pharmacies had to nimbly prepare for thousands of vaccinations while simultaneously operating the regular businesses housed in the buildings where the vaccines were being offered – the Out of the Closet thrift stores and attached AHF Pharmacies, where many fill regular prescriptions – and managing the growing crowd.
While awaiting the en-route nurse, Gonzalez noticed that the skeleton crew of AHF staff could probably use a hand in transforming a thrift store and neighborhood pharmacy into a fist-line medical response site, so he formulated a plan and put it into action on his own: after clearing a table where the nurse could administer injections and setting up the medically-sound disposal areas for regular trash and used hypodermic needles, Gonzalez located the first eight people on the sign-up sheet and lined them up along the thrift store’s front window so they would be able to quickly get their vaccination and clear room for others once the nurse arrived.
Once the vaccination process began, Gonzalez offered to remain at the pharmacy and help in any way that he could, much to the relief of the staff there. For the first two days of the vaccination effort, Gonzalez helped both staff and citizens who arrived to receive a vaccination – from making photocopies of consent forms and medical questionnaires and helping those awaiting vaccination full complete them, to assisting the nurse directly by bringing her supplies, and even utilizing his customer service skills gleaned from a past in retail for crowd control, Gonzalez was instrumental in the smooth operation of the first two days of vaccinations in Hollywood.
“When such tragedies [as the death of Brett Shaad] occur, the community is hugely impacted,” Gonzalez said. “So when these free vaccinations were made available, we noticed that we all became very united and got closer to each other as a whole.”
Gonzalez says his passion for helping to fight HIV/AIDS in particular started when he was a volunteer at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center during a time of career transition in the midst of the Recession. It was then that he decided to put his lifelong passion for helping others to good use, and he enrolled in the Medical Assistant Program at the United Education Institute in Encino, CA in November 2010. After completing an internship at Foothill Cardiology in Burbank, Gonzalez graduated in September 2011.
In addition to volunteering his time to “charities and organizations that I truly believe in” – including the AIDS LifeCycle, which he completed in 2011 – Gonzalez enjoys nature hikes around LA and spending time with his sister and her two children, whom he calls “my joy”. An upbeat optimist, Gonzalez maintains a belief in “fairytale type of love,” and listed being a father (preferably to twins) as one of his life goals.
A lifelong devotee to comic book superheroes, Gonzalez said, “I one day want to become a superhero.” In the eyes of AHF, the day he became a superhero was April 15, 2013.
Update: Gonzalez was recently offered a position as a Medical Assistant in one of AHF’s Los Angeles Healthcare Centers, where his positive attitude and passion for helping others can continue to shine.