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First Person to Be Cured of HIV Discusses Journey, Treatment in Lecture at Penn State

by on November 02, 2017 1:12 PM

Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be successfully cured of HIV, spoke on Wednesday evening in Heritage Hall in Penn State's HUB Robeson Center. Brown, known as the “Berlin Patient,” explained his HIV diagnosis and the process that led to his eventual cure.

Born in Seattle, Brown relocated to Barcelona in 1991 and moved back and forth between Spain and Berlin. When he was diagnosed with HIV in 1995, he settled in Germany to undergo treatment. Brown decided to forgo typical, potentially deadly HIV treatments and chose not to focus on his diagnosis.

I put HIV on the backburner and pretty much ignored the fact that I had HIV,” he said.

Despite a general feeling of animosity toward HIV and AIDS patients in the mid-1990s, Brown said he did not face discrimination while he attended school and worked at a café in Berlin.

“I continued to study and kind of went on with life as normal,” he said. “I didn’t experience any rejection from anyone.”

However, Brown was eventually diagnosed with leukemia in 2006. While undergoing chemotherapy, a rare genetic mutation immune to HIV was found in his blood. Only one percent of people of European ancestry carry this mutation, which made Brown’s HIV curable through a stem cell transplant.

In his own words, Brown was the “guinea pig” for this method, and was released from hospital within 11 days of the transplant. Further testing of his blood and colon determined the presence of the virus was undetectable, making him the first person ever to be cured of HIV. The Washington Post and the New York Times reported on Brown’s treatment, pushing medical journals to publish scientific studies about a cure for the virus.

Brown addressed health insurance in the United States during the question and answer portion of the lecture. He was quick to say “no” when asked if he would have been cured of HIV if he had sought treatment in the United States instead of Germany.

“Insurers wouldn’t have wanted to pay for it,” he said. “Germany’s healthcare plan is a million times better than what we have in the United States. Everyone in Germany has healthcare. I never had to pay for anything while I was there and got the best treatment available.”

Since Brown’s cure became public, he has become a hero for members of the LGBTQ community and those who are HIV positive. His story gives hope to those devastated by an HIV diagnosis and helps eliminate the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Mikey Mandarino is a staff writer for Onward State.
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