In World First, HIV-Positive Woman Donates Kidney to HIV-Positive RecipientTop Stories

March 29, 2019 12:04
In World First, HIV-Positive Woman Donates Kidney to HIV-Positive Recipient

(Image source from: Star Tribune)

An Atlanta woman became the first living HIV-positive kidney donor in the world on Monday when surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore transferred her organ to a recipient who is also HIV-positive, according to a statement from the medical center.

Nina Martinez, 35, of Atlanta, traveled to Baltimore to donate a kidney to an HIV-positive stranger, saying she "wanted to make a difference in somebody else's life" and counter the stigma that too often still surrounds HIV infection.

Many people think "somebody with HIV is supposed to look sick," Martinez told The Associated Press before Monday's operation. "It's a powerful statement to show somebody like myself who's healthy enough to be a living organ donor."

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is making the transplant public on Thursday, said both Martinez and the recipient of her kidney are recovering well.

                       (Image source from: CNN)

"Here's a disease that in the past was a death sentence and now has been so well controlled that it offers people with that disease an opportunity to save somebody else," said Dr Dorry Segev, a Hopkins surgeon who pushed for the HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act that lifted a 25-year U.S. ban on transplants between people with HIV.

Galore HIV-positive patients across the world are on the nation’s waiting list for an organ transplant. HIV-positive patients can receive transplants from HIV-negative donors just like anyone else.

Since 2016, 116 such kidney and liver transplants have been performed in the United States as part of a research study, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) which supervises the system of transplant.

One question is whether receiving an organ from someone with a different strain of HIV than their own poses any risks, but so far there have been no safety problems, said UNOS chief medical officer Dr. David Klassen.

Hopkins' Segev said “Monday's kidney transplant was a world first. Doctors had hesitated to allow people still living with HIV to donate because of concern that their remaining kidney would be at risk of damage from the virus or older medications used to treat it. But newer anti-HIV medications are safer and more effective.”

Recently, his team studied the kidney health of 40,000 HIV-positive people and come to a conclusion that those with well-controlled HIV and no other kidney-harming ailments like high blood pressure should face the same risks from living donation as someone without HIV.

"There are potentially tens of thousands of people living with HIV right now who could be living kidney donors," said Segev, who has advised some other hospitals considering the approach. Generally, kidneys from living donors last longer, added Dr. Niraj Desai, the Hopkins surgeon caring for the recipient. And if more people with HIV-positive finish up donating, it helps more than HIV-positive patients who need a kidney.

"That's one less person waiting for a limited resource," Desai said. "That helps everybody on the list." Martinez, a public health consultant, became curious in living donation even before HIV-to-HIV transplants started. Point in time last summer she learned that an HIV-positive friend needed a transplant, and tracked down Segev to ask if she could donate.

Her friend passed away before Martinez finished the required health tests but she decided to honor him by donating to someone she didn't know. A runner who plans on making this fall's Marine Corps Marathon, "I knew I was probably just as healthy as someone not living with HIV who was being evaluated as a kidney donor," Martinez said. "I've never been surer of anything."

By Sowmya Sangam

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Maryland  Atlanta  health  HIV