Timothy Brown (Seattle, United States, 1966) is a kind, close and patient guy. He jokes even with his state of health, which is precisely what has made him exceptional. Brown is the patient Berlin,the only person in the world who has been cured of HIV infection, the AIDS virus. At least, until now, when three possible new cases are being studied, in London, in Düsseldorf and another, according to Brown, in Seattle, his hometown. "I am delighted that my small family is growing," he says. Always with a smile.
Brown landed yesterday in Alicante as the star of a congress on AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases organized by Seisida and told his experience. That he became infected in 1995. That in 2007 he was diagnosed with leukemia. That he had to undergo two bone marrow transplants. And that the second of them saved his life. "The doctors decided to try a donor with a mutation that made him immune to AIDS," he says. He decided to abandon the treatment, despite the advice of his then partner. He suffered a rebound of the disease, a reaction to the graft and a brain disease. But the virus disappeared.
Twelve years later, alone with EL PAÍS, Brown says he is "very well". "I only suffer from allergies, but they help me feel alive." Smile. After the first transplant he continued working as a German translator. But after the second, he had to leave. Now he perceives the equivalent in the United States to a permanent disability, "because the leukemia can come back". And occasionally, she works "as a masseuse." Of course, its main task is to get involved in everything that has to do with the cure of AIDS.
"It's a way to give doctors back what they did for me," he says. He goes where they call him. Donate "time, blood and even organic tissues". Talk to infected people and those who can become infected. Their degree of involvement is equivalent to their determination to overcome two of the diseases most feared by humanity. A complication of leukemia forced him to use a wheelchair. He has also managed to walk again. "I'm weird, people sometimes think I'm drunk," he says, "but in reality, I do not taste alcohol."
Brown is very aware that he is an "extreme survivor". And he has suffered the syndrome of those who remain alive while people around him die. "It's very hard," he confesses, "sometimes I meet with groups of patients who have survived HIV in Palm Springs" (California), where he lives. But even there is someone singular. The periodic analyzes to which it is subjected have not found the trace of the virus or in the reservoirs where it is hidden. Not in the lymph nodes "not even in the brain". Nothing.
"Once I met Ryan White's mother, a child who became infected after a blood transfusion," he recalls. The case was atrocious, because White had to endure the stigma of all AIDS patients "in society, in school, in their community." In the end, the boy died and in the United States he serves as an example to eradicate this consideration that AIDS was a punishment for those who deviate from the straight path. "His mother was very happy for me, he was surprised that he was alive after hearing my case," says Brown. "But I felt very bad, because I was alive and the child was dead."
He did not suffer in the first person the social condemnation of AIDS patients. Not the staff. "I lived in Berlin and my friends, those who died of AIDS, were in San Francisco or New York." In addition, in Europe he found, both in the German capital and in Barcelona, where he lived before the infection, "a society more open than in Seattle. "" My mother is very conservative and a very devout Christian, "she says," and at first I did not tell her about my cure, because she was treating for breast cancer. "It took her two years to explain it to her. and then "he cried." Since then, he has found "a lot of support from my family and from all of society."
Nor did he feel afraid, at any time. Neither the disease nor the eventual possibility of the virus reappearing. "From the beginning, the doctors told me that I had been cured," he says. He believed them and got rid of fear. "But later, I do worry that someone can infect me." Brown has a partner and both have agreed to maintain an open relationship. "I am sexually active and I have relationships with other people," he warns. Generally, it does not tell them who it is. When he does, "they usually google my name next to HIV," he smiles. Once again.
But, like any other person without HIV, it is not immune to infection. That's why he takes all possible precautions. And PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, a treatment that can be accessed in the US but that is still not widespread in Europe. And in Spain, not even approved. "Young people have lost their fear of being infected again," he says, "and this treatment is safe and has no side effects."