In 2007, Timothy was a gravely ill leukemia patient living in Berlin (after his cure he was famously known as “the Berlin patient” before he came forward in 2011 and identified himself). Timothy was also HIV-positive, but at the time his HIV was the least of his worries.
When Timothy needed a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia, doctors located a donor who had a rare gene mutation known as CCR5, which makes human cells immune to HIV. And that is the most scientific sentence you will read on Queerty all week.
By sheer good luck, doctors found a stem cell donor for Timothy who had the CCR5 mutation. The result of the stem cell transplant? Timothy’s immune system was replaced with a brand new immune system minus the HIV, and to this day he remains the only person to be cured.
“The HIV is gone and it is gone for good,” Timothy, who today lives in Palm Springs, told Queerty. “And I am also cancer free. Two cures. I am really fortunate and blessed.”
His cure is now part of the scientific record, but there are more interesting tidbits to learn about this courageous gay man who risked it all and found himself making history in the process.
Here are five things about Timothy Ray Brown that you may not know:
1. Timothy still identifies as part of the HIV community.
He may be the only person on earth who can say, “I used to have HIV,” but his heart is still very much connected to those living with the virus. He doesn’t care to engage in the sometimes nasty sexual politics between guys who are HIV-positive and those who are negative.
“Remember, I was HIV-positive twice as long as I have been cured,” Timothy said. “I still consider myself part of the HIV community. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In fact, this November Timothy is embarking on the HIV Cruise Retreat (“the Poz Cruise”) to sail the Mexican Riviera with hundreds of people living with HIV and their allies. Between days at the beach and excursions in tropical cities, Timothy will share his story during a special presentation and discuss the latest in HIV cure research.
2. Timothy initially didn’t want the leukemia treatment that eventually cured his HIV.
“I said no to the transplant,” Timothy said, “thinking that it would not be necessary were the leukemia to remain in remission (which it was at the time). I did not need to be a guinea pig and risk my life receiving a transplant that might kill me.” When his leukemia returned, Timothy had no choice but to go through with it.
Neither Timothy nor his doctors had any idea that the stem cell transplant using a donor with the CCR5 mutation might lead to an historic breakthrough. It was a shot in the dark that miraculously hit the target.
3. The treatment Timothy received nearly killed him. Twice.
Folks, don’t try this at home. Timothy’s HIV cure happened in extreme and dangerous circumstances. Timothy endured chemotherapy, the stem cell transplant, and got pneumonia and sepsis infections in the process. His recovery from the stem cell transplant was exhausting and life-threatening.
The physician responsible for Timothy’s cure, Dr. Gero Huetter, eventually admitted he had given his patient only a 5 percent chance of survival. “Whatever,” says the good-humored Timothy now. “Math wasn’t my favorite subject anyway.”
4. There is a bit of Timothy in vials all over the world.
In laboratories around the globe, millions of drops of Timothy’s blood, DNA and tissue samples are being studied.
“I love to give researchers and scientists a hard time about how they know me intimately,” Timothy said. “If only they knew how many pokes, prodding, surgeries and pain I have endured, perhaps they would at least buy me dinner. But it’s all worth it in the spirit of finding a cure for AIDS.”
5. Helping to find a cure that works for everyone has become Timothy’s mission in life.
Imagine winning the lottery and then using your fortune to help other people. That is the mindset that has driven Timothy since he was cured.
In 2013, Timothy co-founded the Cure for AIDS Coalition with Dave Purdy, and has used his notoriety to keep the search for a cure at the forefront of HIV research. “I know in my heart and soul that I will not be the only one cured of AIDS,” Timothy said. “We are committed to helping end this dreaded disease once and for all.”
While being the first person to be cured of HIV assures this gracious gay man a place in history, it is really what Timothy has done since then that makes him a genuine hero.