When one AIDS patient at his residency practice needed a lymph node biopsy, Wallace said two nurses scolded him after the procedure because they thought he had put them in danger simply by having them in the same room. Later, the owner of a clinic where Wallace worked for two years after residency told him he did not want any AIDS patients in his waiting room.
In 1987, Wallace bought a medical practice from another St. Petersburg doctor and was finally able to openly care for HIV and AIDS patients. But at that time, with no vaccine and no cure, patients generally died within six months of their diagnosis, he said.
“We would go to a funeral every day,” he said. “We basically held vigils to help people cross over.”
As pharmaceutical companies scrambled to find treatments for the growing epidemic, Wallace and hundreds of his patients participated in drug trials, striving to find something that could lengthen their lifespan after diagnosis. He became known as an HIV care expert and gave lectures all over the country, even taking on the role of medical director for Florida’s AIDS disease management program in 1998 and helping to start the nonprofit American Academy of HIV Medicine.
Wallace also worked in industry for a handful of years in the early 2000s before taking a short retirement in 2007 to help his sister, whose husband had died. When he returned to St. Petersburg and took a senior physician job with the local health department, he worked on a mobile medical van serving homeless shelters.
People lined up under the hot Florida sun for hours just to be seen, with no shade, no water and no seats. Wallace began bringing snacks and drinks to help prevent dehydration and fainting.
In 2013, on the anniversary of his former partner’s death from AIDS-related lymphoma, Wallace sat down and drafted a plan to form his own nonprofit care clinic, Love the Golden Rule Inc., named after the cultural and religious principle of treating others as you want to be treated.
In addition to once again caring for HIV and AIDS patients and seeing people regardless of their insurance or ability to pay, Wallace committed to helping those with hepatitis C, another stigmatized illness that he noticed was infecting many of the health department’s homeless patients.
To date, the clinic has cured almost 2,000 hepatitis C patients, Wallace said. His goal is to cure all hepatitis C cases in the Tampa Bay area.
“The golden rule is all about respecting others,” Wallace said. “That’s why I founded Love the Golden Rule — to help people get treatment. I feel very blessed. I’ve been given chances to do things that I don’t think a lot of people get. I’m very happy.”