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Dr. Donald Hagan, Crusader for Gay Rights, Dies : Death: Laguna physician whose patients often became friends succumbed to AIDS-related illness at 46.

March 11, 1992|JOHN NEEDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dr. Donald G. Hagan, whose patients often became friends and who crusaded for equal rights for gays, has died of AIDS-related illness, the disease that caused him to abandon his medical practice.

Hagan, the Louisiana-born son of a Baptist minister, died Saturday night at his home. He was 46.

The AIDS Service Foundation of Orange County honored him last month at a dinner that was moved to a home not far from Hagan's so the weakened doctor could attend. He planned on staying for half an hour at most because he was tired; he stayed for several hours instead and the next day pronounced the event "wonderful."

Last week the Orange County Human Relations Commission announced that Hagan was one of its honorees this year.

Hagan taught at Louisiana State University, where he received his medical degree, and at University of Southern California. In 1981 he entered private practice in Irvine. Five years later, he was found to have the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

"It was a devastating moment," Hagan recalled last year in an interview published in The Times. "I have told lots of people that they have cancer, they have leukemia. I've told people they had AIDS. But for it to be personalized was very different. I got home and I cried. I cried."

Hagan continued to practice medicine for another year and a half, without telling his patients. He said he did so after his doctors assured him he posed no danger to his patients in his specialty, family medicine.

In March, 1988, he stopped practicing. Some of his patients learned of the AIDS diagnosis, and all who did supported him, he said. Many said in interviews that they initially went to see a doctor and wound up with a friend and that they continued to see him during his illness.

Patients who come to see a family practitioner often "don't need a prescription of medicine," Hagan said. "What they need is someone that will listen to them . . . can communicate to them . . . explain to them why they feel as they do and go about changing whatever is going on in their lives."

After he stopped practicing medicine, he spoke on AIDS to various groups, including doctors, which he said "helped me keep my identity."

Hagan was an activist for gay rights and a member or leader of several organizations, including the Log Cabin Republican Club of Orange County, a political club for gay Republicans.

He said gays were fighting "to be treated equally and with respect."

Hagan's three-level house in Laguna Beach overlooks Bluebird Canyon, where he could watch raccoons, birds and an occasional deer, activities that delighted him as he battled AIDS. When he traveled to New Orleans, where he owned an apartment, he and his companion, Drew Barras, would travel with their two dogs.

Last month, the 6-foot, 3-inch Hagan, who weighed more than 200 pounds before becoming ill, weighed 150 pounds. "I'm just skin and bones," he said.

"Last night I got emotional when I was down on the floor playing with the dogs and realized that some day they're just going to know I'm gone, not why," he said. Then he cheered up and said, "But within two or three days, with someone else feeding them, they'll be wagging their tails for him."

Hagan's survivors include Barras and two brothers. Survivors requested that rather than flowers, contributions be made to the AIDS Services Foundation, Irvine.

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