Rest in peace

Timothy Ray Brown, first person cured of HIV, has died of cancer

Timothy Ray Brown (Photo: Facebook)
Timothy Ray Brown (Photo: Facebook)

Timothy Ray Brown, the US gay man better known as “the Berlin Patient,” died yesterday of complications related to leukemia. Brown, 54, was believed to be the first person cured of HIV.

In 2007, Brown, who was HIV positive, received treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This involved doctors in Germany giving him two bone marrow transplants. He received new T-cells with a genetic variation that made them resistant to HIV. The treatment not only put his cancer into remission, but doctors were subsequently unable to find any trace of HIV in his body.

They concluded that he had been cured of his HIV.

Although the news was widely reported and welcomed when announced in 2008, bone marrow transplants are not a realistic treatment that can be rolled out on a commercial scale. They are extremely costly, grueling procedures that carry their own risks. Patients have to take immunosuppressive drugs afterward. They tend to only be carried out when people are battling life-threatening blood cancers.

Related: FDA gives approval for human trial of potential HIV cure

Still, even if not easily replicable, Brown’s recovery provided hope that there are ways to eliminated HIV from the body. When a second man – “London Patient” Adam Castillejo – showed similar results eleven years later after a bone marrow transplant for lymphoma, it demonstrated that Brown’s case was not a one-off.

Brown himself decided to go public in 2010 and gave interviews about his treatment and recovery. He said at the time, “I didn’t want to be the only person cured, I wanted to do what I could to make [a cure] possible. My first step was releasing my name and image to the public.”

Sadly, after several years of remission, Brown’s cancer returned earlier this year. Over recent months, his health has deteriorated and he was moved into a hospice in his home city of Palm Springs.

There, he was comforted and supported by his partner, Tim Hoeffgen. The two men met in 2013 Their relationship was celebrated in a recent, beautiful article by HIV activist and campaign, Mark S. King.

Hoeffgen announced Brown’s death yesterday via a moving post on Facebook.

“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away at 3:10 pm this afternoon surrounded by myself and friends, after a 5 month battle with leukemia.

“Timothy was born on March 11, 1966, and grew up in Seattle as an only child with his mom Sharon. He enjoyed summers with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Idaho. Tim also became lifelong friends with Corrinne Balinsky, Jake Miranda and Elaine Fitch while living in Seattle.

“Timothy lived in Berlin from 1993 to 2010 with his former partner Michael Dastner while he worked in a cafe, and he was a German-English translator. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and then in 2007 he was diagnosed with AML. He had two stem cell transplants that put his AML into remission and cured his HIV with the CCR5 delta 32 deletion.

“In 2010, Tim moved back to the US and became public about his status as the Berlin Patient and was on the cover of Poz magazine in June 2011. Tim committed his life’s work to telling his story about his HIV cure and became an ambassador of hope. Tim also gave numerous blood and tissue samples to researchers after his cure.

“I met Tim when we were both living in Henderson NV, one day after my birthday, on 3/29/13. I was instantly attracted to his smile, wit, handsome face, and very sweet nature. We enjoyed being around each other all the time so I asked him to move in with me 6 months later.

“Tim liked our frequent trips to Palm Springs to visit friends and for my doctor appointments. Tim suggested we move there and we agreed. We arrived at a perfect time of year in January 2015.

“Tim was a happy and gentle soul but he did get cranky if he didn’t have his double espresso in the morning! He loved watching Good Morning America, MSNBC, and politics in general. Tim was really looking forward to Election Day on 11/3/20. He enjoyed our frequent movie outings and watching Netflix.

“Tim formed lasting friendships with HIV researchers, doctors and activists. Tim got involved as a PrEP and U=U activist and was glad more tools were available for HIV prevention.

“Tim’s absolute favorite thing to do was traveling abroad. We had amazing times with trips to Amsterdam, Berlin, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, and Vancouver. Tim particularly enjoyed our trip to Cape Town when he spoke to students at the Desmond Tutu HIV center, and to Amsterdam for the International AIDS Conference in 2018.

“I am truly blessed that we shared a life together but I’m heartbroken that my hero is now gone. Tim was truly the sweetest person in the world. Tim’s spirit will live on and the love and support from family and friends will help me through this most difficult time.

“Celebrate Tim’s life and always have Hope.

“You’re my angel now. I love you forever Tim!”

Related: Scientists can’t find any trace of HIV in man potentially “cured” via medication alone