His name is Adam Castillejo. A native of Venezuela, he is 40 years old and has lived the better part of two decades in London. He is also only the second known person to have been cured of AIDS.
Until recently, Castillejo was known simply as the London Patient. However, Castillejo felt it important to reveal his true identity and share his inspirational story of optimism and perseverance with others facing similar circumstances.
The battle against HIV and AIDS is ongoing. The latest breakthrough weapons are powerful antiretroviral drugs that suppress the virus to undetectable levels. However, these new wonder drugs do not eliminate the virus entirely. In short, they suppress but do not cure.
Castillejo’s case is unique because the virus disappeared completely and stayed that way even after he stopped taking his medications for 30 months. He joins the Berlin Patient, Tommy Ray Brown, as the only persons known to have been cured of AIDS. In Castillejo’s case, a timely bone marrow transplant using stem cells and a donor with a genetic mutation known as delta 32, which hinders the HIV infection, contributed to his cure.
Castillejo tested positive for HIV in 2003, and immediately set about changing his lifestyle in response to the news. He began to eat healthy. He started exercising on a regular basis, taking up running and cycling. Things were looking up as much as one could expect when he received news in 2011 that he had Stage 4 lymphoma. What followed were years of chemotherapy and a further descent into illness and emotional devastation. He disappeared in 2014 for four days. His friends and family filed a missing person report and prepared themselves for the worst. Thankfully, Castillejo eventually returned, but with no memory of where he had been or what he had done. The following year doctors told him he would not live to see Christmas. He had reached rock bottom.
Hope returned when doctors decided to try a bone marrow transplant to treat his lymphoma. It was a risky procedure generally used only as a last resort. Compounding the issue further was his HIV status and finding a doctor with the requisite knowledge and experience to perform the transplant. It was the London Patient's last chance. The goal was to, in effect. replace Castillejo’s immune system with that of a healthy donor. What neither doctor or patient fully understood was that the donor had a genetic mutation that hindered the HIV infection. So when the surgery finally took place in May 2016, it proved to be the first step on the road to curing Castillejo.
Doctors are quick to caution that Castillejo’s case in an outlier, the result of a perfect storm of medical events and reactions. However, what the London and Berlin Patients do show is that a cure is possible. Castillejo’s case is also providing some much-needed optimism and hope for those still living with HIV.