Garry Bowie – Executive Director at Being Alive Los Angeles Dies of COVID-19 Complications

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Garry Bowie - Facebook Screen grab

The executive director of Being Alive Los Angeles, Garry Bowie, died today at 9:30am from complications to his lungs after testing positive for COVID-19.

Garry Bowie is widely known for his HIV advocacy and he was a loved member of the leather community.

Established in 1986, Being Alive is a nonprofit client-driven organization that focuses on the mental health and wellness of people living with HIV and AIDS. Their services include a variety of no-cost programs, such as comprehensive emotional support, treatment education, prevention, advocacy, wellness and social services. Their mental health program, Dignity Plus, also offers long term therapy for clients infected with and affected by HIV.

Below is a statement from his husband Jeff Wacha, posted on his Facebook Timeline:

“Many of you have been trying to reach me for information regarding Garry Bowie and his battle with COVID-19. I’ve been silent as there has not been very much I could share that would answer all of your questions, and I knew that whatever information I provided would most likely not be enough, even though it was the limit of the information I had as well.

Garry died this morning about 9:30 as a result of the damage COVID-19 did to his lungs and body.

Garry started exhibiting flu-like symptoms on Thursday evening, March 19. He didn’t have shortness of breath but had almost all of the other symptoms. Garry was very sick the entire time, spent a lot of time in bed, resting, and working on his laptop. He didn’t get any worse, but he showed no improvement either. Late in the eve on Friday, March 27, his breathing became shallow and rapid. I tried to get him to go to the hospital, but he was insistent that we wait until morning to see if he was better as he “didn’t want to sit at the ER with all of those other people’s germs.” My trying to convince him that he already had all those germs was unsuccessful, and it made no change in his stubbornness. If you knew Garry, you knew that you couldn’t talk him into anything once he had his mindset. His breathing had not improved by early Saturday morning, March 28, and I called an ambulance. I dressed him and helped him walk to the front door, where the paramedics put him on a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance. They immediately put him on oxygen. I was able to exchange just a few words to him before they shut the doors and left with him. I told him how much I loved him, and he told me how much he loved me. It was the last time I would see him.

It was in the ER that he posted a picture of himself with an oxygen mask on Facebook. He immediately received a long list of good wishes, a litany of questions, and a few comments that, although I know they were well-intentioned, were probably not the most appropriate to tell someone who is suffering from a virus that has such a high mortality rate. It immediately sent me into an extreme state of anxiety and a panic attack, and I was able to reach him on his phone and ask him to take the posting down, which he did.

I was able to talk to him for a couple of minutes at a time while he was in the ER, most of which was just reminding him how much I love him, and him telling me how much he loves me. We had one last set of “I love you” before they sedated him so they could intubate and put him on a ventilator. This was about 2:00 PM on Saturday, March 28. I had no idea it would be the last time I spoke to my husband; my reason for living; the man who has supported me emotionally the previous 20 years and kept me alive; the man who made me laugh every day that we were together; the man who made each day together even more beautiful than the day before; the man who always knew what to do to help me see the light at the end of the tunnel when I started spiraling into the abyss; the man who surprised me with deliveries of flowers just because he “knew you needed it right now and to remind you how much I love you.”

He was the man who often said, as I often said to him, we couldn’t imagine life without each other. I’m finding I don’t know what my life is going to be without him and how I’m going to carry on without him. We should have had at least another 25 years together. It’s what we planned for when we bought this house. He loved this house and took great pride in making improvements to it. This is where we planned to grow older and grayer together. I can’t fathom doing that on my own and not sure if I will be able to stay in the house we both loved, given the current state of the economy.

When admitted, they found he had pneumonia in both lungs and ARDS. He would show a little improvement one day, and a set back the next. His reliance on oxygen would improve only slightly, but his kidneys were in free fall. I would receive a call with updates each morning from the ICU team treating him. Those calls were my only source of information since I could not go to the hospital. The few times I did try to call during the day, the nursing staff was overwhelmed, although very respectful and sympathetic, but unable to give me any more information different from the earlier, daily conversation with one of the treating doctors. Some of the doctors tried to give me encouraging reports and signs of hope, and some were blunter about pushing me to approve a DNR for him, which I could not bring myself to do. On Sunday morning, during the daily call, Garry’s pulmonary specialist advised me that his passing was imminent, that keeping him in an induced coma was only prolonging the inevitable, forcing his body to continue to degrade with toxins building up that would lead to heart failure. Although he was in no pain and could not be aware of what was going on, they stressed that we should allow him a dignified death on his terms and not be in a state of paralysis, which only causes more stress on the body as it tries to shut down. Removing the paralytic drugs from his system and keeping him sedated and doing comfort care, would allow him to leave when he was ready without fighting a bunch of tubes and machines.

From the day Garry was admitted, I had daily conversations with a dear, supportive friend who is a doctor so they could help me understand in layman’s term the medical information the ICU team provided me each morning. When the pulmonary specialist delivered the devastating news on Sunday, she agreed to talk to our friend so they could help me understand his condition and any hope of recovery as well as put to rest my fears that the actions I was being asked to approve and put into play were not premature. I won’t mention their name here as some well-meaning people may try to reach out to them to get further information. That would serve no purpose because I’ve told you everything here that is relevant; their support has been incredible during this period. I do not want to thank them by opening a litany of messages to them from people asking them questions that they can’t answer anyway due to HIPAA regulations and my request to keep our conversations confidential. But you know who you are, and I’ll be eternally grateful for your kindness, wisdom, and unconditional support through this.

I have only spoken to a handful of people during this time and have intentionally not posted it to Facebook. My siblings and their families have been Godsends throughout, and their support has been incredible. The loss of Garry equally devasts them. There were also a handful of other people that I kept updated daily due to underlying circumstances. I know how many of you cared for Garry and wanted to know more. I apologize for being silent so long, but I was encouraged to focus on self-care by those few friends and family I spoke with, as well as Garry’s doctors and the social worker I was assigned. They felt I needed to limit my stress and maintain my health because if Garry were to recover, it would be a long journey for him, and I would need to be healthy enough to care for him. I also felt It was the only way to maintain what little of my mental health I had remaining. I had very little information to share and, knowing how loved Garry was by everyone’s life he touched, and I knew that you would have many more questions than I could answer or give justice.

Garry had a heart of gold, even though he didn’t always like you to know it and hid it as much as possible. I try not to think that his love of his community and providing care for those in need and those less fortunate may have been the factor in his exposure to the COVID-19 virus. He was the most intelligent man I’ve ever known. His thirst for learning and research always astounded me. Talented beyond measure, no matter what tasks or projects he took on, which were way more than any human should attempt, they were always completed to the fullest of his ability and beyond everyone’s expectations. For him, his work was never just good enough; he strived to make it better in every way possible. Everything he touched appeared to be touched by magic.

I am at a complete loss right now. I don’t know what I need or want for myself right now. Most of my time has been spent in a fetal position on the sofa, waiting for my daily call from the ICU. I truly meant I couldn’t imagine my life without him, always sure that I would never have to know. Now he’s not here, and I am lost. I don’t have any idea how I’ll work through this. I lived for Garry. He was my entire world.

If you have stories to share about Garry and pictures, please post them to his Facebook page or my page. Knowing how many lives he impacted and that others loved him as I do may or may not help me right now, but I know in the future, I will appreciate everything you could share. The Facebook posts are useful but I would also appreciate it if you would also email me everything so I can compile it into a permanent record. It would be one that I’ll be able to share with all of you once we are allowed to have public gatherings again and celebrate his life. I’m hoping that also allows you to share things that might otherwise get you in Facebook jail. Garry loved to laugh and loved to instigate, so please help me keep all the memories of that little troublemaker alive. My personal email is JeffWacha@gmail.com

Garry has compiled a wealth of historical documents for several organizations. Please be assured that all of his archives will remain intact as he left them. I’ll reach out to you in the future to help me go through the items Garry may have for your organization so you can decide on what you want to do with them. He was preparing a large number of archives for the ONE Institute. Everything is safe and will remain to be. I will need help going through everything to get it to the place it needs to be, but I can’t begin that now. I don’t know how soon it will be before I can walk into his studio here without falling apart. When I get to that point, I’ll need a lot of assistance to make sure things are properly cataloged and archived to the appropriate place.

As for me, I may be unresponsive, so please don’t take offense if I’m slow in getting back to you. I will try, but I can’t make any promises this early in the process. Every time I start to talk about Garry, my heart explodes from my chest.

Thank you for loving Garry and supporting him for so many years in every endeavor he took on.”

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Jennifer Spilsbury
Jennifer Spilsbury
2 months ago

My goodness. There is a reason my fingers navigated me to this tribute to Mr. Bowie. I’m not exactly certain what that is, but the crazy amount of love that his beautiful husband, Jeff has for him had tears streaming down my face. This is definitely an eye-opener that this virus can and will take those you love- it does not discriminate. If Jeff is reading my reply, I’d like for him to know he may be saving many lives by giving us a deepEr understanding of the process of all this, and how we MUST be vigilant and wise… Read more »

David Solares
David Solares
2 months ago

I’m so very sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful man, and the way you described your love was just too real. I can feel the pain in your words. Please take time to be in that fetal position, but know time will heal you, just hang on. My most heartfelt condolence.

Edward Salm, PhD
Edward Salm, PhD
2 months ago

I am really heartbroken. I’ve known several others, only casually or as friend of a friend, who have passed. Garry is the first one who is close. His great contributions to the HIV and LGBT community will be remembered. He was an activist to the end. Just a few weeks ago, he got the California Dept of Insurance to temporarily mandate all insurance companies to refill 90 days of prescriptions to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

Jimmy Palmieri
Jimmy Palmieri
2 months ago

A good man, taken way to soon. Say hi to Ganzell wherever you both are.