The New York Times just reported about an HIV+ baby who now has no evidence of HIV infection. When the baby was born, five tests confirmed that the baby was infected, so the baby was treated within 30 hours of birth with 3 anti-retroviral drugs, which is not typical treatment. The toddler is now 2 ½ years old and has been off drugs for a year, with no evidence of HIV infection.
Doctors are quick to credit modern science in the form of the unusually early intervention with three drugs. And certainly, it’s possible that this regimen of treatment of HIV+ infants may prove to be the solution. Studies will surely ensue, and if proven to be effective at curing HIV in babies, this is indeed a major medical breakthrough that may affect the nearly 330,000 newly infected babies diagnosed each year.
I hope this is true. Really I do. But just to cast a shadow of doubt in our collective minds, let me throw out an alternative suggestion. What if doctors study HIV+ babies, treat them with an early intervention of three anti-retroviral drugs, and find that this unusual regimen is no better than standard treatment, which has never been proven to cure an HIV+ baby?
Unexplained Spontaneous Remission
I know what will happen. Someone will write up the case study. It will get published in some medical journal as an unexplainable medical mystery, and everyone will go back to thinking HIV is incurable.
That’s what happened to the 3500+ case studies of unexplainable spontaneous remission collected in the Spontaneous Remission Project, an online database curated by the Institute Of Noetic Sciences. The authors defined spontaneous remission as “the disappearance, complete or incomplete, of a disease or cancer without medical treatment or treatment that is considered inadequate to produce the resulting disappearance of disease symptoms or tumor.”
The database includes case studies of spontaneous remissions from a wide range of “incurable,” “chronic,” or “terminal” illnesses, including Stage 4 cancers, HIV, a gunshot wound to the head, cardiac illnesses, and more common illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases. Reading through all these case studies, as I did when researching my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, is enough to make you question whether any disease can be accurately labeled as incurable. And the news of an HIV+ baby who no longer has evidence of HIV infection certainly introduces just such a question mark into my mind.
How Scientists Deal With Spontaneous Remission
Typically, when a patient experiences an unexplainable spontaneous remission, scientists start by questioning the diagnosis. If an incurable illness becomes cured, surely, there was a misdiagnosis. If this fails to explain it, any treatment that was given, even if the treatment had previously been proven to be ineffective for cure, will be lauded as the miracle-worker.
This is what happened to my friend Anita Moorjani, author of Dying To Be Me. She was diagnosed with terminal stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, treated with chemotherapy she was told would not cure her, and left to live out the rest of her short life. She then experienced a near death experience as a result of her cancer. But after “crossing over” to the other side, she had an experience of consciousness that invited her to make a choice. She could stay dead and enjoy the nirvana of an afterlife experience she describes as being “engulfed in a total feeling of love.” Or she could come back to life with the promise that, very quickly, her cancer would disappear.
Anita chose to come back on February 2, 2006. She woke up, and within 4 days, her tumors had started to shrink. Within several weeks, her cancer was gone. She has been disease-free ever since.
But skeptics question what happened to Anita. They claim that the chemotherapy she did receive explains her remission, even though she was told it would not cure her.
Ego & The Scientist
Spontaneous remissions like Anita’s and the HIV+ baby can be narcissistic wounds for physicians and other scientists. As doctors, we like to believe that we are body experts and can control and predict – or at least explain – who gets better and who doesn’t. But case study after case study proves that we only know so much. Plus, the fact that 18-80% of patients enrolled in clinical trials who are treated with placebos get better just affirms what we already suspect – that the mind has more power over the body than we might think.
I shared some of the scientific data I uncovered to explain how such spontaneous remissions might occur in my latest TEDx talk “Is There Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself?“, and there’s even more data in Mind Over Medicine.
But here’s what I concluded.
I believe our health care system is badly broken because we’ve lost respect for the body’s ability to heal itself. As health care providers, we’ve gotten arrogant about our power to control disease, and we’ve forgotten that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that can be flipped on or off with our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
But somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that a patient who experiences a spontaneous remission is threatening. We try to explain it away as a misdiagnosis or the result of a treatment known not to affect cure.
Who knows what will happen in studies investigating early triple antiretroviral therapy in HIV+ newborns. I hope a medical breakthrough is proven. But I won’t be surprised if this becomes one of those unexplainable spontaneous remissions we can only speculate about with furrowed brows…
Healing Health Care
I wish we had less resistance to believing that medical miracles are not only possible, but commonplace. If the emails I get from my online community at LissaRankin.com are any measure, hundreds or thousands of spontaneous remissions are unreported for every one that shows up in the medical literature.
Changing how we think about spontaneous remissions just might be a key factor in helping us heal our broken health care system (you can read about my vision to heal health care here). I believe healing health care must start at the grass roots level – with empowered patients and conscious health care providers. It all starts with shifting our consciousness about the body’s capacity to self-repair.
What Do You Believe?
What are your thoughts about spontaneous remission? Have you had any personal experiences? Share your stories in the comments.