- ‘I want to be an ambassador of hope.’
The world’s second only person to be cured of HIV has revealed his identity – he is Adam Castillejo.
For the last year Castillejo has only been known as ‘The London Patient’.
But now the man, who lives in the East End of the UK capital, says he wants to be an ‘ambassador of hope’.
And he has shared his unique story of surviving a decade of gruelling treatments and the fear he would die.
Castillejo, 40, is certainly an unusual case.
Last March, scientists announced doctors had cured his HIV after he received a bone-marrow transplant for his lymphoma.
By chance, a donor who had bone marrow to match his needs carried a rare mutation. That mutation stopped HIV entering cells. So the transplant replaced Castillejo’s immune system with one which resists the virus.
Of course, the bone marrow transplant was to cure his cancer. And it’s a risky procedure. So it is not practical as a widespread cure for HIV positive people.
But it has sparked huge interest from researchers.
‘We think this is a cure now’
Castillejo is only the second person in the world to have cured his HIV. And he has shared his story today with the New York Times.
The only other person in the world to have cured his HIV is Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called Berlin Patient, in 2008.
And at the time news of the ‘London Patient’ broke, doctors were still not certain Castillejo was cured. So they referred to his case as a ‘remission’ at first.
But now Dr Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge is more confident. He said: ‘We think this is a cure now, because it’s been another year and we’ve done a few more tests.’
How Castillejo found a cure
Castillejo has been HIV positive since 2003. At the time he said the diagnosis was ‘terrifying and traumatic’. Back then, HIV treatment was not as advanced and the public still saw the virus as a ‘death sentence’.
Now, of course, those who can access treatment can usually live healthily long-term. And, if on effective treatment, the amount of the virus in the body falls so low it is impossible for them to pass it on to others.
But in 2011, medical staff spotted he had cancer – a Stage 4 lymphoma. Castillejo thought it was ‘another death sentence’.
He underwent years of harsh chemotherapy which was harder because of his HIV status.
Things got so bad, he contemplated going to Dignitas, the Swiss company that helps terminally ill people end their lives.
And in 2015, doctors gave him less than a year to live.
While people with lymphoma do sometimes get a bone-marrow transplant from a donor when they have no other option, Castillejo’s doctors didn’t have the experience to do that with someone living with HIV.
But a close friend helped him find a doctor in a London hospital who could help.
And surprisingly, he was lucky to match with several possible bone-marrow donors.
One donor from Germany also carried a crucial mutation called ‘delta 32’. It hinders HIV infection. Now Castillejo’s could dream he could survive cancer and cure his HIV.
He eventually received the transplant on 13 May 2016. And he faced a punishing year of treatment with multiple infections and several operations.
But now, against all odds, he is HIV free.
Castillejo said: ‘I don’t want people to think, “Oh, you’ve been chosen.” No, it just happened. I was in the right place, probably at the right time, when it happened.’