David Flanagan recently biked from San Francisco to Los Angeles as a part of the AIDS/LifeCycle fundraiser in honor of his son Joshua, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 28 after being diagnosed with HIV.
This father from Clifton, Texas, isn’t the most likely candidate for a seven-day endurance ride that covers over 500 miles.
The AIDS LifeCycle fundraising event occurs every year, bringing in over 2,500 riders and countless “roadies” bonded together in “a common desire to do something heroic.”
Flanagan was followed on his ride by YouTuber Davey Wavey, who hoped his story would inspire others.
“Given that my audience is young gay men and that HIV and AIDS disproportionately impact our community, I immediately knew it was a story that I needed to cover,” Wavey told BuzzFeed News of his decision to ride along with Flanagan.
Joshua’s mother, who acted as a roadie for the event, also appears in the video to share her son’s story.
She recalls the first moment she realized something wasn’t right with their son’s health. She urged him to see a doctor about his weight loss and nagging dry cough.
“They only treated his symptoms,” Joshua’s mother says.
Joshua was finally tested for HIV and when the results came in on his 27th birthday, they were positive.
According to AIDS.gov, a healthy number of CD4 (T cells) in an adult ranges from 500 to 1,200 cells/mm3. Joshua’s count came back as only 2.
Tracking CD4 levels in a patient’s blood is one way to determine when HIV has developed into AIDS. When a patient’s levels drop below 200 cells/mm3, the disease has progressed to stage 3, or AIDS.
According to Joshua’s parents, soon after being diagnosed the doctors argued against starting aggressive treatments, and his condition worsened.
Eventually deemed healthy enough to go home, Joshua was discharged from the hospital. Only a little over 24 hours later, his parents would receive word that their son’s heart had stopped.
Flanagan hopes that his son’s story will help others seek out the treatment or testing they need.
“If you think that you might need to be tested […] go ahead and do it,” he concludes.
When asked what he thought Joshua would think of his father doing this ride, Flanagan replied, “We hope that he would be proud.”