Celebrating a 100th birthday is a huge milestone for anyone. But when Miguel, also known as “the Lisbon Patient,” celebrated his centennial this spring it was also a milestone for the global poz community. That’s because he is the oldest documented person living with HIV in the world. What’s more, his viral load is undetectable, he’s in great geriatric health, and he still lives at home and cares for himself.
In light of persistent HIV stigma, Miguel and his family requested that news outlets not display his face in photos nor share his full name. Maintaining that confidentiality, researchers studying Miguel (a pseudonym) nicknamed him “the Lisbon Patient” when referencing him in their case studies and published reports.
“I feel happy,” the soft-spoken senior told Canada’s CTV News, speaking through a translator at a hospital in Portugal. “I’ve spent these years without hardship and without troubles.”
According to CTV News, Miguel was diagnosed with stage 3 HIV (AIDS) in 2004 when he arrived at a hospital near Lisbon with rare forms of colitis and lymphoma and a low CD4 count. He was 84 then and had no idea he was HIV-positive or how and when he contracted the virus.
After learning about the disease, Miguel told his doctor he wanted to fight. Dr. Henrique Santos, Miguel’s primary physician, recalled having concerns, telling CTV, “When this patient came to me at this age, I had some doubts that he should be treated.” But Santos went ahead and started Miguel on an aggressive course of chemotherapy. “Everything went well, but it could have gone wrong,” he said. “There could have been signs of toxicity. He could have not been able to bear the treatment. He could have missed the treatment. We had to consider those scenarios.”
Fifteen years later it’s clear that Miguel and his medical team made the right decision.
Inês Pintassilgo, a medical resident who has been part of Miguel’s treatment team for the past three years, said his health and longevity can be attributed to the fact that he has lived a healthy and active life, and since his diagnosis takes his HIV meds daily.
“I think he teaches us that you can live with HIV as long as you have all the other background and lifestyle and comorbidities under control,” Pintassilgo told CTV News. “I would say, of course, HIV maybe plays a little role in this, but if it’s well-managed and well-controlled, it will not be that big of an issue.”
HIV specialist Giovanni Guaraldi who works at the University of Modena in Italy said, “I believe that the Lisbon Patient is a sign of hope for people living with HIV to say you still have the capacity not just to live longer but to live in health, to experience healthy aging…. He is a proof of principle for us researchers and doctors to say we can provide better care to people.”