The world is fortunate Stephen Crohn was born different.
Crohn was gay and watched many of his friends die. In 1978, when the disease was little understood, Crohn began caring for his partner Jerry Green, one of the first to die from the disease that became known as AIDS.
It was difficult to live in a state of “continuous grief,” said Crohn in a 1999 interview with PBS. “You keep losing people every year – six people, seven people. … The only thing you could compare it to would be to be in a war.”
But Crohn, the great-nephew of gastroenterologist Burrill B. Crohn, among the first to describe Crohn’s disease, never got sick.
Medical researchers took samples of his blood and subjected it to HIV concentrations thousands of times greater than what would occur outside of a test tube. His white blood cells proved impervious. A genetic quirk, a “flawed receptor,” made him immune. Soon, researchers found others who had similar resistances. The discovery led to the treatments being used today, and forms the basis of ongoing research towards a vaccine.
A freelance painter and travel editor for Fodor’s guides, he became the focus of documentary films and newspaper and magazine articles.
“What he contributed to medical knowledge is really quite extraordinary,” said Dr. Bruce D. Walker, the director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, M.I.T. and Harvard.
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