Tragic news has reached us that Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of HIV, has died aged fifty-four.
He leaves behind an incredible legacy…Over the 3 decades since the HIV/AIDS epidemic, both attitudes towards the virus and medical treatment have changed drastically.
And there’s one man who’s had a pivotal role in this… Timothy Ray Brown.Brown was the first person to be cured of HIV.
And his incredible story has not only changed the game in terms of medicine, but he’s remained a symbol of hope to those who contract the virus.Tragically, however, it was announced this week that Brown has passed away.
The news of his tragic death as confirmed on Tuesday. He was just fifty-four-years-old.When the HIV/AIDS was first identified in the ’80s, it was pretty much a death sentence for whoever was infected.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the immune system and research found that it was the hunting and consumption of African monkeys such as chimpanzees that developed and spread the virus in humans.The virus began in Africa…
Studies found that HIV originated in 1920 in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the same area that is known for having the most genetic diversity of HIV strains in the world.It made its way to the US in the ’80s…
And this is when the HIV epidemic began.HIV became a stigma in the gay community.
Gay men who had unprotected sex were the most common people to contract the virus, as the virus was spread very easily this way.
However, scientists in 1982 discovered that HIV was also being spread through the use of needles when using drugs, and also through blood transfusions in hospitals.There were very limited treatments for the virus, which went on to be named AIDS.
People infected would be given a mere few months to live after diagnosis and it was accepted that nothing could be done for those with HIV and AIDS.The stigma of HIV in the early years was relentless.
Public response was negative in the early years of the epidemic and people in the gay community were stereotyped with carrying the virus and were shunned away from society.Babies were born already infected with the virus…
Pregnant mothers who were HIV-positive were at a huge risk of passing the infection onto their unborn children; some mothers even passed it to their children through breastfeeding.However, science, research, and medicine have come on leaps and bounds over the years when it comes to treating HIV and AIDS.
In 2017, statistics found that 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. and 6 dependent areas.
The virus is now treated with medication that prevents it from replicating in the body and allows the immune system to repair itself – meaning infected individuals can go on to live long and healthy lives.People who have the virus can even live without passing it on to others.
And more and more are attempting to break the stigma that still surrounds the illness, such as Johnathan Van Ness, who recently opened up about being HIV-positive.But, in 2007, a major discovery was made.
A man, known only as “the Berlin patient” at the time, had been cured of the virus.That man would later be revealed to be Timothy Ray Brown.
Brown, who was born in Seattle, was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 while living in Berlin.He underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2007 to treat leukemia, which he separately had.
But, the donor had a genetic mutation called “CCR-delta 32” that made him resistant to HIV to the point of near immunity.When Brown received the transplant, that genetic resistance was passed on to him.
The game-changing discovery was announced at an AIDS conference the following year and was widely celebrated as a cure.Brown remained anonymous for 2 years…
But, in 2010, he identified himself.
He wrote about his decision to abandon anonymity in a 2015 essay published in the AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses medical journal. Brown wanted to dedicate his life to supporting research for a cure.
“I went from being the ‘Berlin Patient’ to using my real name, Timothy Ray Brown,” he wrote. “I did not want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV; I wanted other HIV+ patients to join my club. I want to dedicate my life to supporting research to search for a cure or cures for HIV!”Brown became a symbol of hope for those facing a HIV diagnosis.
But going public wasn’t an easy decision.
“That he stepped out of his comfort zone to become a symbol for millions of people around the world is not an easy assignment,” Brown’s friend, Mark S. King, said.He continued:
“This was a modest man of very humble means who was just trying to stay alive. He never asked for the spotlight, and when he needed to step into it to give us this symbol of hope, he did so willingly and very graciously.” Since he was cured over a decade ago…
One other person, named Adam Castillejo, was announced to be cured of the virus just last year.But, on Tuesday, the heartbreaking news of Brown’s death was announced.
Brown died Tuesday of a recurrence of leukemia, which he battled for 5 months, at his home in Palm Springs, California, where he had been receiving hospice care.His partner, Tim Hoeffgen, was by his side.
Brown and Hoeffgen met in Henderson, Nevada, in 2013, after he had gone public about his cure. Hoeffgen wrote in a Facebook post announcing Brown’s heartbreaking death.
“I was instantly attracted to his smile, wit, handsome face, and very sweet nature,” he wrote. “We enjoyed being around each other all the time so I asked him to move in with me 6 months later.” Hoeffgen described Brown as a” happy and gentle soul.”
“But he did get cranky if he didn’t have his double espresso in the morning.” He continued the emotional post, in which he described his partner as his “hero.”
“I am truly blessed that we shared a life together but I’m heartbroken that my hero is now gone.” In a statement on Wednesday, the International AIDS Society spoke out about Brown’s untimely death.
“We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hütter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible,” the IAS said. Research to find the viable cure for HIV is still ongoing…
The treatment that cured Brown’s and Castillejo’s HIV cases is “not a viable large-scale strategy for a cure, [but does] represent a critical moment in the search for an HIV cure,” Sharon Lewin, an HIV researcher and the president-elect of IAS, said in the statement. She continued…
“Timothy was a champion and advocate for keeping an HIV cure on the political and scientific agenda,” Lewin said. “It is the hope of the scientific community that one day we can honor his legacy with a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and cure using gene editing or techniques that boost immune control.” Rest in Peace, Timothy Ray Brown.
Our thoughts go out to Brown’s friends and family at this incredibly difficult time.