World's first person known to have defeated HIV is battling another deadly disease. Timothy Ray Brown, dubbed as Berlin patient because of where he was at the time, is now in a battle against cancer and currently under home hospice care due to a recurrence of leukaemia. The 54-year-old HIV survivor underwent historic treatment over a decade ago and is now living in Palm Springs.
Brown started to experience pain and neurological symptoms last fall. Upon getting relevant tests done earlier this year, it was revealed that his cancer had relapsed, spreading to his spine and brain. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, but conditions didn't improve and the side effects became intolerable. Brown was undergoing treatment at the hospital even during the COVID-19 pandemic, but later decided to enter hospice care and stop the treatment.
"Timothy is not dying from HIV, just to be clear," Tim Hoeffgen, Brown's partner, told Mark S. King, who broke the news this week in his My Fabulous Disease blog. "HIV has not been found in his bloodstream since he was cured. That's gone. This is from the leukemia. God, I hate cancer."
On defeating HIV
It was in 2006 when Brown was undergoing antiretroviral treatment after his diagnosis of leukaemia. Brown learned he had HIV in 1990s. It was then when his German doctor came up with the idea to use stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that blocked HIV from entering cells. He had to undergo two marrow transplants in 2007 and again in 2008, followed by intensive chemotherapy.
Brown had become extremely weak due to the side-effects of his treatment and the diseases in the body. But a new lease of life came when the donor stem cells rebuilt a new immune system that was resistant to the virus.
"Timothy proved that HIV can be cured, but that's not what inspires me about him," Dr. Steven Deeks, an AIDS specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, adding that "We took pieces of his gut, we took pieces of his lymph nodes. Every time he was asked to do something, he showed up with amazing grace."