For years, he was solely known as the “Berlin Patient,” the only person in the world to have been cured of HIV. But then a doctor let slip the patient’s name, and the Berlin Patient became Timothy Ray Brown, a miracle.
“Let me be crystal clear: I am HIV negative,” Brown said today at his first-ever press conference in the US. “I am cured of the AIDS virus, and will remain cured.”
The 45-year-old is in town for the 19th International AIDS Conference to announce the launch of the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, which will provide funding for research to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. The foundation, he says, will make every effort to invest in “cutting-edge therapies and treatments.”
These therapies are nothing new to Brown, who has been poked and prodded by scientists all over the world ever since undergoing his remarkable battle against HIV. (“You’ve never lived until your had your personal medical records discussed on national TV,” he joked.)
The Seattle native’s story starts in Berlin in 1995 when he was diagnosed with HIV. But it wasn’t the “lifetime of pills” for HIV treatment that ended up ridding his body of the disease. It was, in fact, an oncologist who ended up saving Brown’s life. In 2006, Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. His oncologist, Dr. Gero Hütter, recommended an alternative treatment in addition to undergoing chemotherapy: Brown would receive a transplant that would replace his own stem cells with an HIV-resistant line of stem cells. If the procedure worked, miraculously Brown could be cured of both cancer and HIV.
Two stem-cell transplants and another battle with leukemia later, doctors found no trace of HIV in Brown’s body. Five years later, despite some recent skeptics voicing their doubts, Brown says his large team of doctors has no doubt he is the first person in the world to be cured of the disease.
“I was just a human being who took part in a cutting-edge treatment,” he said. “Now I’m a fierce advocate to find a cure for everyone who is infected or has yet to be infected by this vicious and awful disease.”
But Brown, who says today he is in good health despite looking frail and sometimes stumbling over his words, knows his treatment is not a common one, nor is it likely to become one. He notes that his doctors in Berlin tried the transplant procedure on several other patients in 2010, all of whom ultimately died from complications of their illnesses.
“I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy,” he said. “There were times I felt like I would die. Times I wish I would have died.”
Still, for the 34 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, Brown’s experience provides hope and inspiration, said friend and founder of the World AIDS Institute David Purdy. Choking back tears, Purdy, an 18-year HIV survivor, said, “Inside him lies the answer. Inside him is the cure.”