Timothy Ray Brown is a medical miracle. The Seattle native is the only person ever cured of HIV. Now, he's returned home to help the effort to cure others.
Brown's story is nothing short of amazing. He shared it Tuesday with KIRO Radio's Ron and Don Show, recounting how he was first diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS in 1995 while living in Europe.
"It was a death sentence," he says.
Fortunately, he responded well to treatment and his viral load ultimately dropped below detectable levels. But several years later came another blow. Brown was diagnosed with a highly deadly form of leukemia.
"It was another death sentence," he said. But it would also lead ultimately to a medical miracle and a confluence of events that could someday change the world.
Brown underwent grueling chemotherapy treatment under the care of a renowned bone-marrow specialist.
Dr. Gero Hutter knew that one in 100 Northern Europeans carry a genetic mutation that makes them immune to HIV. Since a bone marrow transplant recipient also takes on the immune system of the donor, Hutter wondered if the transplant could also cure HIV.
The doctor found 267 matches for Brown's bone marrow, and one who had the mutation.
"It was a German who was living in New York at the time," Brown says.
At first, things didn't look good.
"I had to have chemo treatment and radiation therapy in order to kill off my own immune system so the new immune system could grow in my body," he says. "I was told later I only had about a 5 percent chance of surviving."
But not only did he survive, three months after his first transplant the HIV was gone.
"It was very amazing, but I don't think I really believed it until I read the paper the doctor had written for the New England Journal of Medicine. So I began to realize it was true."
Now, he hopes to bring the cure to others. Brown has formed a foundation with the World AIDS Institute, and will appear Wednesday at a free Seattle University community event with researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to share his story and kick off a national fundraising tour.