68-Year-Old Man Diagnosed With HIV and Cancer Beats Both

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Mar 09, 2024

Only a few decades ago, HIV was a death sentence, but today it’s manageable but not considered curable. Cancer kills more than 10 million people a year, and while therapies and medications can work, treatment is daunting and often unsuccessful. 

However, one man, Paul Edmonds, beat not just cancer but also HIV, making him only the 5th person to ever be cured of the virus. 

The Story of Paul Edmonds

California resident Paul Edmonds was diagnosed with HIV more than 30 years ago. He moved from Georgia to Florida as a young man, trying desperately to find somewhere he fit in, but it wasn’t until his move to San Francisco when he was finally able to be openly gay and accepted for who he was. 

Protest in the 1980s where activists hold a sign that reads “AIDS: We Need Research Not Hysteria”

Source: Getty Images

Then, in the 1980s, HIV and AIDS started spreading around the gay community and the entire world. Edmonds told USA TODAY that, “No one knew what was going on,” with what they called “gay cancer.” But by 1988, Edmonds knew what the virus was, and more importantly, that he had it.

Diagnosed With AIDS at 33 Years Old

Edmonds explained that, “Anyone who [he] knew who was testing positive was dead within two years.” So, when his results came back positive not just for HIV but for AIDS, the following stage of the disease, he was devastated. 

Paul Edmonds talking to the camera during an interview

Source: @DefeatHIV/X

For years, Edmonds took the recommended medications and tried his best to live without fear of death. To his own and most of his doctors’ surprise, Edmonds remained healthy and active, even with his diagnosis. He got married and lived a full life, until 2018, exactly 30 years later, when he was diagnosed with leukemia

Those With HIV Are More Likely to Develop Blood Cancers

Although the news was shocking for Edmonds, his doctors had likely warned him of this possibility for several years, as people living with HIV are more likely to develop blood cancers such as leukemia. 

A scanning electron microscope image of a single human lymphocyte representing the immune system

Source: Wikipedia

By 2018, although Edmonds’ HIV was all but undetectable, his immune system was still weakened by the life-long virus, and the leukemia came on strong. 

Edmonds Started Chemotherapy Right Away

Because of the aggressive nature of Edmonds’ cancer and his already suppressed immune system, his doctors told him the best course of action was to start chemotherapy immediately.

Blurry photo of a doctor sitting with a patient as they receive chemotherapy

Source: Freepik

However, they also noted that chemo wouldn’t be enough to completely eradicate the cancer. Soon, he would need a stem cell transplant via a blood marrow donor as well.

Reaching Out for Help

It was then that Edmonds, thanks to a recommendation from his doctor, reached out to City of Hope, one of the best centers in the country for stem cell transplants.

Exterior of the City of Hope cancer center in Los Angeles, California

Source: City of Hope

The doctors at City of Hope immediately began searching their donor registry for bone marrow that would match Edmonds’ so he could get the stem cell transplant as soon as possible. 


Searching for the Perfect Stem Cells for Edmonds

But they didn’t just want to find the perfect bone marrow match; the doctors at City of Hope were also searching for the best possible match that contained a rare genetic mutation.

Digital illustration of DNA and cell mutations around it

Source: Freepik

The gene mutation, known by scientists as homozygous CCR5 delta 32 mutation, is completely resistant to almost every strain of HIV, but it is incredibly rare.


Only 1% of People on Earth Have This Gene Mutation

Only 1% of the planet’s population have this mutation, but doctors have been able to take the bone marrow from a few of the people with the mutation, transplant it into people living with HIV, and cure them of the otherwise incurable virus.

Bone marrow removal by a doctor form the patient’s spine

Source: Wikipedia

However, this tactic had only successfully been implemented four times, until Paul Edmonds. City of Hope was actually able to find a donor match with the gene mutation for Edmonds, and the transplant went better than anyone could have hoped. 


Edmonds Came Out of the Transplant a New Man

Edmonds told USA Today, “I didn’t have to think at all (about) whether I wanted to move forward to get a bone marrow transplant. It was that or death.”

Paul Edmonds smiling at the camera during an interview with Raif Derrazi

Source: @RaifDerrazi/YouTube

But Edmonds didn’t just survive the transplant; he said when he woke up, “New life came into me.” A new life, free of HIV for the first time in more than 30 years. 


Is a Stem Cell Transplant a Possible Cure for Anyone With HIV?

Unfortunately, stem cell transplants are extremely risky and are not, at this time, a valid option for people living with HIV unless they are also suffering from a form of blood cancer and would actually need the transplant. 

Close up photograph of human cells under a microscope

Source: Freepik

However, the doctors at City of Hope are optimistic that, because many people with HIV do develop blood cancer, this treatment can at least become a more commonly used one for many. 


Edmonds' Plan to Be an Advocate for HIV Research Now That He’s Been Cured

Edmonds told USA Today, “I still have to remind myself that it’s real. But I’m feeling it… it’s OK for me to let myself believe it.”

Paul Edmonds and his husband sit on their couch during an interview

Source: @GoodMorningAmerica/YouTube

And he also said he hopes to spend the virus- and cancer-free years he has left as an advocate, fighting to find a cure for HIV. 


Organizations Like City of Hope Won’t Stop Until They’ve Found a Safer Cure

Thanks to people like Paul Edmonds and thousands of others fighting for a cure to the currently (almost) incurable HIV virus, several organizations are hard at work, trying to do just that. 

Several vials of blood in test tubes marked HIV

Source: Adobe Stock

City of Hope plans to not only try to save as many patients as they can with the rare gene stem cell transplants, but also to try to find another cure that will help those who don’t have cancer.