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Defying the Odds, Brodsky Runs to Save Lives in Kenya

Garden City Pediatrician delivers medicines, treats young AIDS orphans

Talking to Richard Brodsky, you’d never know anything had ever been wrong. At 59 years young, the passionate activist and lifelong marathon runner recently returned from Kisumu, Kenya, to run in the World AIDS marathon for victims of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

For more than 14 years, the Atlantic Beach resident has defied the odds and triumphed over adversity to educate and inspire others to raise awareness and funds for victims of AIDS and HIV through the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation.

To understand Brodsky’s mission, you have to understand his past. Married for 31 years to his wife, Jodi, Brodsky was living the American dream. The father of three teenaged daughters, he made his living as a successful architect on Long Island. However, in 1997, a dark secret would change he and his family’s world forever — he was a bisexual and had contracted HIV.

Telling Jodi the news was extremely difficult, Brodsky explained. “I had to tell her that I was a bisexual. I said to her, ‘I guess we have three options. You can divorce me, we can try to work this out or I said I could kill myself for bringing so much shame to my family,’” he said. As a father, he didn’t want to leave his daughters and he says, thankfully, she wanted to save the marriage. He details the ups and downs of their relationship in his book, Jodi, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

Learning to live with HIV was something Brodsky had managed to deal with. However, in 2002, his health would take another turn for the worse when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. “I had a seizure at my own book signing at Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village. My doctors pretty much gave me two to four years to live,” he said.

While the road to wellness seemed all but impossible, Brodsky became even more determined to prevail. After undergoing months of treatment for brain cancer, he and Jodi, lifelong marathon runners, decided to pursue their joint passion — running. “Shortly after I was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given two to four years to live, I made a promise to myself and my wife, Jodi, that if my life was spared, I would do everything to help others living with HIV and cancer, especially the 14,800,000 orphans living in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. 

And his perseverance paid off. A year after the seizure, he ran in the New York City Marathon. And in October 2011, he ran his fastest marathon at the ING Hartford marathon since being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Brodsky credits a regimen of Bikram yoga and acupuncture to his current state of good health. Despite all of these difficulties, Brodsky says running is still something that excites him.

“Running is a part of my life and I really thrive on the [Richard M. Brodsky] Foundation. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m alive. It gives me a real purpose. I don’t have time to worry about my illnesses,” he said.

In 2004, he started the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation to raise money for an AIDS cure or vaccine and research and to benefit those already living with HIV/AIDS, and those with brain cancer. Brodsky has continued to run to raise awareness that people living with HIV must have access to the AIDS medicine and follow-up health care. He puts special emphasis on the AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, where he says 2/3 of people are dying from AIDS every day.

Supported by federal and local politicians including Kate Murray and Carolyn McCarthy, the Foundation provides food, shelter and shoes for orphans living in Kenya, raises money for research for the cure or vaccine for AIDS and helps those already afflicted with AIDS and brain cancer. To date, Brodsky says his Foundation has managed to feed 3,400 orphans and donated approximately $35,000 toiletries and supplies to people living with HIV and cancer.

Since 2006, the Foundation has held seven World AIDS marathons in Kenya and one in Gainsville, FL. In addition, the Foundation has donated money to AIDS and cancer projects in America and AIDS projects in Kenya.

Last fall, Brodsky recruited Dr. Richard Sartori, a doctor at Garden City Pediatrics, to accompany him to Africa to run in the 2011 World AIDS marathon.

Over the years many people had expressed interest in joining the mission, but Brodsky maintained that Sartori was the only person who actually followed through on the pledge. “Dr. Sartori was the first American, since 2004, who chose to join my wife and me and participate in the World AIDS Marathon and its related events,” he said.

After losing 170 pounds, Dr. Sartori had first started running triathlons and local races where he befriended the Brodskys. “He’s been inspirational to me,” Sartori said of Brodsky. “Here’s a guy who shouldn’t be here from both illnesses and he’s running marathons.”

Upon leaving for his first trip to Africa, Sartori said he was both excited and nervous to participate in the marathon. “I always knew that I should give back not only being a pediatrician, but to give back for all my blessings…I said why not? I mean I could go to Hoboken, NJ, or Latin American or why not Africa?” Sartori said.

During the trip, Sartori donated $500 for much-needed medicine and examined 56 children at two orphanages in two days. “I realized at that time, we were going to the heart of AIDS, most of the kids are orphans to AIDS,” he said. “I didn’t realize there was so much poverty and lack of education, things we take for granted,” he said.

After returning home to Glen Cove, Sartori says he is still processing his life-changing experience in Kenya and plans to spread the word and get a team of doctors to return there next year.

“I knew I couldn’t change the world in two days and I think it was rewarding and beneficial, both ways, for myself and the kids,” he said.

The Brodsky Foundation is planning its next run in June at Cedar Creek Park. To volunteer, donate or learn more about upcoming marathons and events, visit www.richardmbrodsky.org.