A brilliant! story of success

July 10th, 2013

Dean Thullner takes the stage in front of more than 700 people at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom. It’s September 22, 2012, and Thullner is here to perform at the inaugural edition of brilliant!, a fashion show and fundraiser he organized to support mental health patients at St. Paul’s.

A picture of health and vitality, Thullner felt markedly different than he did just 20 years beforehand when he was diagnosed with HIV and told he had three months to live.

“It was horrifying,” he recalls of the time of his diagnosis. “I sold my hair salon in Vancouver and decided that it was important to take care of myself.”

Finding help at St. Paul’s for mental health and HIV

The diagnosis took both a physical and mental toll on Thullner who sought help from St. Paul’s Mental Health Program. There he received emotional, healthy eating and lifestyle counselling from a team of specialists. He also found camaraderie and a sense of community through the many different support groups offered at St. Paul’s.

“The Mental Health Program focused on my overall health and not just my virus,” Thullner says. “Changing my lifestyle and listening to their advice, I instantly started to feel better.”

Thullner also received treatment for the physical effects of the disease at St. Paul’s, which was the first hospital to knowingly treat HIV/AIDS patients in BC at a time when little was known about the disease and stigmas against infected individuals were widespread. While there, he began receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy, the internationally accepted gold standard for HIV/AIDS treatment pioneered by current BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s director Dr. Julio Montaner.

A new start

Thanks to the treatment and care he received, both Thullner’s physical and mental condition dramatically improved. Thullner is now feeling great and just recently opened Volume Studio Ltd., a hair salon, flower shop and art gallery on Bute Street in Vancouver’s West End.

“The best moment for me at St. Paul’s was hearing that HIV was now about living and not dying,” says Thullner. “It’s through St. Paul’s research and relentless and arduous compassion and continuous support and availability on a regular basis for our community of HIV-positive people that we’re here today.”

A brilliant! show of love for mental health and HIV/AIDS

To give back to the hospital that has been a helping hand to him throughout his illness, he launched the brilliant! fashion show in 2012. This was a sizeable undertaking for Thullner, who was the driving force behind the event that brought together a fashion runway show, live dance and vocal performances, along with silent and live auctions.

“I organized brilliant! because I wanted to say thank you for myself and my community,” says Thullner. “And I also thought that by getting the community involved, we would be able to show how grateful we are for everything that St. Paul’s has done for mental health and HIV/AIDS.”

St. Paul’s Foundation will be hosting brilliant! on an annual basis starting in 2013. The event will again feature all the glitz and glam of last year’s show and will benefit patients with mental health issues and HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s.

Thullner is actively involved with producing the event, and is looking forward to seeing the event grow in the years ahead.

“I believe that the care at St. Paul’s is the best support you can get,” he says. “I’m hoping that over the next 10 years, other people will come forward and share their story and show their appreciation for the work being done at St. Paul’s.”

The second annual brilliant! fundraiser takes place Saturday, September 21, 2013 at the Commodore Ballroom, in partnership with CANFAR and presenting sponsor Manulife Financial. Learn more and get your tickets at