Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV died of cancer on Tuesday. He was 54.
Brown was cured of HIV when he underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2007 to treat leukemia, which he separately had.
His donor had a genetic mutation called “CCR-delta 32” that made him resistent to HIV to the point of near immunity.
When Brown, who was widely known as “the Berlin patient,” received the bone marrow transplant, that genetic resistance was passed on to him as well.
The scientific discovery was announced at an AIDS conference in 2008 and was celebrated as cure.
Brown identified himself in 2010. He was known as “the Berlin patient” for the city where he was treated.
In 2015, Brown wrote about his decision to abandon anonymity. His essay was published in the AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses medical journal.
“My name is Timothy Ray Brown and I am the first person in the world to be cured of HIV. While attending university in Berlin in 1995, I received a positive HIV diagnosis. I started out taking low-dose zidovudine (AZT), but the next year protease inhibitors hit the market and I, like many HIV-infected people at the time, lived a rather normal life and had a nearly normal life expectancy,” Brown wrote in his essay.
He added: “That continued for the next 10 years. After attending a wedding in New York City and feeling exhausted the entire time, I flew back to Berlin, rode my bicycle about 10 miles to work (which I generally did weather permitting), and felt drained when I arrived. At lunch, I rode to a restaurant about a mile away and had to get off the bike halfway there. I called my boyfriend, Michael. He was unable to make an appointment for the next day with my doctor but made one with his HIV doctor.
“I went there the next day and found out I had anemia, meaning that my red blood cell count was very low. He gave me red blood cell transfusions for the rest of the week and then, unable to resolve the situation, sent me to an oncologist, who at first said he did not think I had anything serious. However, he did a very painful bone marrow biopsy on me. I went back the next Monday for further treatment and the doctor informed me that I had acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and needed to be treated at a hospital.
“We chose one of the Berlin university hospitals near my apartment. He called there and got Dr. Gero Huetter on the phone who said “Send him in.”
“The next day I went to the hospital and was put on chemotherapy after having tubes put into my neck that extended into my heart. The doctors told me that I would need four rounds of chemotherapy treatments, each taking a week, with breaks of several weeks in between. I did the first round; that went well. The second round gave me fungal pneumonia, but that passed with antifungal treatment. During the third round, I got a dangerous infection. I was put into an induced coma. When I came out of that a day later, Dr. Huetter told me to go on vacation so I vacationed in Italy. Before the third chemo treatment, Dr. Huetter took a sample of my blood to send to the stem cell donor bank with the German Red Cross to look for matches for my tissue type in case I needed a stem cell transplant. This confused me because I thought this ordeal would end with the chemotherapy treatments.”
Brown, who became a symbol of hope for people facing HIV and AIDS diagnoses. In 2019, another person Adam Castillejo, was announced to be cured of the virus.
Buzzfeed quoted Brown’s friend, Mark S. King, who lives with HIV, as saying that his greatest hope was that he would not be the only one cured of HIV.
“He did not live to see that promise fulfilled,” King said. “But it was immeasurable, the impact he had on the hopes and the morale of people living with HIV like me. We projected so much onto Timothy, like, oh my gosh, maybe one day I could be cured,” the publication quoted King as saying.