Timothy Brodt is among more than 2,000 bike riders who left Sunday on a 545-mile trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle benefit. He carried with him a small black-and-white photo of his Uncle Richard, who died of AIDS more than 20 years ago.
For the last two years, Brodt has participated in the annual bike ride to raise money for HIV and AIDS-related services at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
"I had this idea of me doing a great thing," Brodt said, recalling how he felt when he first participated in the bike ride. "I'm helping others."
But Brodt, once a television producer with a six-figure salary, never thought "others" could include him.
After losing his job and health insurance, Brodt, 37, now relies on the same services that he raised money for in the past for his own HIV treatment.
He was laid off last April. Although he was offered another job in the industry, he decided to take time off to reassess his career. When he was ready to return to work, previous job offers had dried up. By then, he said, people who had provided job leads were losing their own positions.
Savings stretched only so far. Brodt moved into an older, cheaper apartment on the edge of Hollywood and gave up his car. Some weeks, he said, he had less than $20 in his bank account.
After six months, Brodt could no longer afford the $500 monthly payment for COBRA health insurance benefits. His HIV medications could run several thousand dollars a year. He stopped taking them.
It wasn't long before he started to feel fatigued and depressed.
"I thought, maybe I need to talk to someone . . . Maybe I'm just depressed. I can't find a job," Brodt said. "I didn't really think it had to do with HIV."
Brodt's symptoms were a textbook example of what can happen when someone who is HIV positive stops taking medication, said Brad Hare, medical director of UC San Francisco's Positive Health Program at San Francisco General Hospital. A lapse in treatment can increase the risk of disease progression and medication resistance, he said.
As the recession continues, Hare said he's seeing more patients like Brodt -- people who, after losing their jobs and private health insurance, turn to public and nonprofit clinics for the first time.
"Recession patients," he said, are responsible for a 12% increase this year in the HIV clinic's overall patient visits.
Hare said many patients come in after going months without medical attention.
"It's denial, it's fear, it's stigma of coming to a public HIV clinic," he said. "It's also depression."
Reluctantly, Brodt went to the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, for which he has raised about $15,000 through AIDS/LifeCycle.
"When I first walked in there, I was scared and felt hopeless and ashamed that I was maybe taking services from someone else," he said. "The reality was that I needed the services; I wasn't taking anything. But my ego was telling me otherwise."
The nonprofit center has provided Brodt with free HIV treatment since December. Over the last year, the number of new patients, many of whom recently lost their health insurance, has doubled, said Thomas Soule, a spokesman for the center.
"It's been a year of practicing humility and abandoning ego and learning how to ask for help," Brodt said.
Brodt has always carried his Uncle Richard's photo with him on the bike ride. But this year is different.
"I'm riding for every single one of us, because I know at some point, every single one of us could be in the same position," Brodt said.
"There's a particular face of who I'm raising money for now -- it's mine."