I have learnt that medical science is capable of wonders. Some may say miracles. People, including myself, once believed that HIV could not be cured.
My case proves that it can be cured.I was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and started taking low-dose AZT — the only available remedy at the time.Back then, HIV was still considered a death sentence. Luckily, the next year, protease inhibitors came out and I was able to take them for the next 11 years.
In 2006, on a trip to a wedding in New York City, I felt exhausted the entire time. I returned to Berlin and was diagnosed as anaemic. The doctor gave me many red blood cell transfusions, but my values did not increase sustainably. The doctor then sent me to an oncologist who eventually did a bone marrow biopsy and diagnosed me with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
The next day, I checked into the hospital and met Dr Gero Hutter for the first time.
I received two-and-a-half rounds of chemotherapy, the third round being stopped because I got a sepsis infection. My leukemia was in remission.
Dr Hutter told me that he was sending my blood to the German donor bank to determine whether there would be possible donors for me.The number of possible donors was comparably very high (267), giving him a revolutionary idea of looking for a donor who had a CCR5 delta 32 deletion, making them immune to HIV.
He hypothesised that if I were to receive the immune system of an HIV-immune donor, I would then become immune to the virus. On the 61st attempt to locate a donor with this CCR5 delta 32 deletion, one was found.It was very difficult for me to believe this would work.The leukaemia was still in remission.After consulting friends and family and a transplant professor at a university in Dresden, Germany, I initially decided against the transplant.
However, near the end of 2006, the leukaemia came out of remission.I then decided to save my life from the surely deadly AML and accept the transplant.I underwent another round of chemotherapy in January 2007, then full-body irradiation in February 2007. I stopped taking my HIV medication on the day of my transplant and have never taken any since then. The transplant itself on February 7, 2007 was like getting a blood transfusion.
I just had to wait for them to drip into my blood system and then wait for the “new” stem cells to reproduce en masse. I was able to leave the hospital after 13 days; I went to a rehabilitation centre. I was able to go back to work and the gym. Prior to this procedure, with undetectable HIV in my blood system, I was unable to gain muscle weight.
After the procedure, that seemed to have been reversed so that I had the feeling that something had already changed dramatically in my body.I was later told that the doctors already thought their plan had worked and were excited. I had no detectable virus in my blood despite the fact that I was not taking HIV medication.A colonoscopy showed no sign of HIV there.
Unfortunately, at the end of the year, on a trip to Seattle, USA, I had pneumonia and the blood test showed that I had a very low blood platelet level.
I thought, “Oh no, the leukaemia is back.”
I went back to Berlin and a bone marrow biopsy showed that, sure enough, I had AML again. The doctors attempted unsuccessfully to rid my body of it with an oral chemotherapy medication.Then the discussion began about trying a second stem cell transplant from the same donor against the leukaemia.
I was told several years later that they had only given me a five percent chance of survival.I am happy they did not tell me that at the time.The recovery from the second transplant was not as easy. I became delirious which was investigated with a brain biopsy to see if I had any leukaemia in my brain.
They also checked for HIV. Both tests came back negative which is important because one of the reservoirs for HIV in a long-term remission is in the brain.Unfortunately, during the brain biopsy, the doctors accidentally left an air bubble in my brain.I went partially blind.
I could not walk or even stand up until I went to a clinic for patients with extreme brain injuries at a different hospital. I eventually went back to the original hospital and then was sent to another rehabilitation centre. I was never able to return to work at the same translation company where I had worked before my AML.
I think I would have been able to translate still, but they never rehired me.My former partner thought that I should relax and enjoy my life. I realised, however, that I did not want to remain the only person cured of HIV. To start, I needed to release my name and image to the general public before which I was known as “The Berlin Patient”.
I believe that my advocacy has made it easier for scientists to discuss my case and more generally HIV cure/cures.Since “coming out” as the face behind the “Berlin Patient” and the first person in the world cured of Aids, I have had support from many people around the world, including Africa.
Others too have helped me promote globally the idea that HIV can be cured.I have learnt that medical science is capable of wonders. Some may say miracles. People, including myself, once believed that HIV could not be cured.
My case proves that it can be cured.If one person has been cured, and for some unknown reason I am lucky enough to be that person, it means that nothing is impossible and curing HIV for everyone who is infected, I believe, will happen in my lifetime.My main reason for co-founding the Cure for Aids Coalition and Cure Report was to be a leader in the effort to find a cure.
Our mission is to advocate, educate and support full funding for a cure for this dreaded disease. My main objective in doing this is to do what I can to make sure that scourge of Aids ends.Everyone deserves to be cured.
Unfortunately,I am unable to come to the Icasa conference because of personal reasons. It is such an important conference.I would have loved to attend and meet everyone working on the front lines in the war against Aids, in Africa and worldwide.
From what I know about Zimbabwe’s Aids Levy, I am impressed that many tens of thousands of Zimbabweans living with HIV now have access to ARV treatment. Whether this is enough in a country with an estimated 1,2 million adults and children living with HIV is open to discussion.
However, it is a great start.Since I believe that in a country so heavily hit by HIV, the population should be willing to pay the three percent of their income for this because virtually all families in Zimbabwe are affected by HIV.We have come a very long way as it relates to treatment and care. That is if you are lucky enough to have access.Not everyone does around the world.
There will always be challenges related to prevention.However, pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP seems to be a viable option and I hope it becomes more readily available to everyone around the world. As it relates to a cure, I tend to think that cure lies mostly in the hindrance or deletion of CCR5 from CD4 cells.
Although many of the other methods may, in fact, work, I believe that this genetic manipulation is extremely important. I believe that all of the methods under consideration have their validity and should be pursued.Quite frankly, I don’t really care who comes up with a cure or cures for HIV, just as long as it happens.I and millions around the world are counting on our brilliant scientists and doctors to help get Aids to zero.
I am very pleased that you are able to hold the Icasa conference in Zimbabwe and I am hoping to have the opportunity to attend Icasa in future.I, and I know others, believe that Africa is extremely important in our global desire to bring this virus to its inevitable end.Without Zimbabwe, the continent of Africa or any place around the world, there will be no cure and there will be no end to the loss of our brothers and sisters.
We have made such tremendous progress over the past 35 years.But with today’s scientific advances and out-of-the-box thinking, I know we can end this disease once and for all.