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September 5: The Man Who Couldn’t Catch AIDS

September 4, 2015

14health_aids_2_250Stephen Crohn, an artist and editor whose genetic resistance to AIDS (the “delta 32 mutation”), once discovered, led to significant advances in fighting HIV infection — including a 2006 cure of an AIDS patient treated with bone marrow transplants from a donor who had the mutation — was born in Manhattan on this date in 1946. Crohn nursed his partner, Gerry Greenwood, through the ravages of the disease and had lost numerous friends to AIDS, but was never himself infected. When he heard that Dr. Bill Paxton of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York was looking for gay men who seemed resistant to infection, Crohn readily volunteered for testing. His white blood cells, known as CD4 cells, which are the particular target of HIV, proved to be highly resistant until flooded with “huge amounts of virus, far more than would be present in the course of a naturally occurring form of infection,” according to The Independent. “It’s like a key,” Crohn explained on Nova, “the virus comes... looking for a two-holed keyhole. I don’t have one of the holes. Period. It’s never going to attach to me.” Crohn was the great-nephew of the doctor who discovered Crohn’s Disease. He died by his own hand in 2013, age 66. For a sensitive portrait of Stephen Crohn, click here.

“Back in the early 1980s, at a time when thousands of gay men, including dozens Steve knew and loved, began dying, he kept on living. Surely he’d been multiply exposed, and yet as he waited a year, and then many, to join those he’d lost, he came to realize that his body would not give him the chance. Frantic to find out why, he went from doctor to doctor, all but begging someone to study him; when eventually someone did, a great discovery was made.” —Jesse Green, New York magazine