Second person cured of H.I.V. reveals identity

By Faith Pitsikoulis
March 25, 2020


The second person to be cured of H.I.V. has revealed his true identity with the intention of providing hope to those fighting the AIDS epidemic globally.

Adam Castillejo was a 23-year-old man living in London when he was diagnosed with H.I.V. in 2003, the horrific experience suddenly had him preparing for death. Like all H.I.V. patients, he watched as doctors around the world raced to find a cure, but no attempt has yet proven to be successful.  

HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon. Photo by Marco Smith.

Another diagnosis would come up eight years later. Castillejo was told he had Stage 4 lymphoma, dwindling his odds for survival once more.  However, on May 13, 2016, he received a bone-marrow transplant to fight his cancer diagnosis.  The donor carried a mutation that blocked the ability of H.I.V. to enter cells, which cured Castillejo of the disease, and cured his cancer.  

According to The Nature, the stem-cell transplant replaced white blood cells with blood cells that are H.I.V. resistant.  This stem-cell technique was also used to cure the first man of H.I.V., giving doctors substantial information necessary to ultimately find a cure for the disease.  Both patients had a form of blood cancer that did not respond to chemotherapy.

The Lancet HIV published a follow-up on Castillejo’s case, explaining the methods of fluid samples used to detect the disease in the cells.  The report also predicted the probability of remission for life is 98 percent.

Castillejo, at 40 years old, was officially cured from H.I.V. last March, but was reluctant to reveal his identity due to media scrutiny and what would be a certain lack of privacy.  Finally, he chose to use his story as a beacon of light for those struggling to survive H.I.V.

Castillejo was born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved to London at a young age.  His father has Spanish and Dutch ancestry, which allowed various donors to match his profile throughout Europe.  In an interview with BeLatina, he expressed his motivation to bring awareness of the risks patients with Latino heritage face in healthcare.  He spoke out about Latinos receiving less access to sex education and medical assistance, along with genetic challenges that can hinder possible donor solutions.

Basic statistics on the Global AIDS website, provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), report that 37 million people are currently living with H.I.V.  The CDC has supported life-saving treatment for over 9 million people with H.I.V., using the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to help about one third of all people living with the disease.

Washington D.C. memorial AIDS quilt. Photo by NIH.

Even though his case does not provide a definitive cure for the disease, it does serve as a light at the end of a very long tunnel for doctors and current patients.  Researchers have stated that the more patients experience remission due to stem-cell transplants, the closer a cure comes into reach. Both patients to be cured have cases that provide scientific information on what samples combat H.I.V. and revive immune systems.  

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Faith Pitsikoulis

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