Three years after he abruptly left Big
Brother 13, reality star Dick Donato says he left the show
because he learned he's HIV-positive.
The 51-year-old Donato won Big
Brother 8 and returned for season 13 as part of a team with his
daughter Daniele Donato, but he left during the first week. At the
time he cited “personal reasons.”
On Wednesday night's episode of cabler
VH1's Couples Therapy, Donato said he left the show after
learning from its doctors that he was HIV-positive.
“When they told me, I just went
numb,” he told PEOPLE.
“My biggest fear was telling my
girlfriend. 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,” he added.
Donato said the diagnosis surprised
“People are going to make assumptions
about how I got it, and that's okay,” he said. “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 created a stigma around the disease
that makes it hard for people to publicly say they have it.”
“When people asked why I left Big
Brother, I would give quippy, smart-ass answers,” he said.
Donato said that he's healthy, he only
practices safe sex and his viral load is “virtually undetectable.”