THE BRONX (PIX11) — The world’s first HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant took place at a Bronx hospital earlier this year and, on Tuesday, the recipient of the heart and the family of the organ donor met for the first time.
Brittany Newton’s family got to hear Brittany’s heartbeat through Miriam Nieves as Brittany’s sister, Breanne, held a stethoscope up to Nieves’s chest.
The families are now forever bonded. Nieves is the first HIV-positive person in the world to receive a heart from an HIV-positive donor.
“Words cannot describe how grateful and thankful they are a part of me now too,” Nieves said.
Netown was an organ donor from Louisiana who saved Nieves’s life with more than one organ.
It’s been a long, complex, and difficult medical journey for Nieves, but the 62 year old is celebrating with her new heart and new kidney.
Montefiore Medical Center said Nieves contracted HIV because of her drug addiction. She’s been clean for decades, but in 2006 she had one kidney removed because of kidney cancer. Years later, her remaining kidney began to fail and her heart was not strong enough for the surgery, so she needed both a new heart and kidney.
Dr. Peter Semczuk, executive director of Montefiore Moses Hospital, said there are approximately 60,000 patients in the United States awaiting a heart transplant.
“Yet only 3,000 patients last year were lucky enough to receive one,” Dr. Semczuk said.
When Montefiore listed Nieves for two organs, no calls were coming in. To speed up the process, Dr. Omar Saeed, the transplant cardiologist, said that after consulting with Nieves, they agreed to place her on a list for an HIV-positive heart.
“This would put her into a category of her own,” Dr. Saeed said. “She wouldn’t be competing with anyone else in the country and within a few days, the offer came.”
A massive team effort by Montefiore led to a successful outcome and newfound family members.
“You are a part of our family,” Breanne Newton said. “Not only because you have the heart, but I just really love you and I really think that you’re going to take good care of my sister’s heart.”
Brittany Newton’s mother was also there.
“My child’s still walking around and for that, I will forever be grateful,” she said. “Believe that.”
It’s been a special experience for Nieves.
“It’s like going through ancestry and meeting your family,” Nieves added. “They are my family now. I am alive because of my family.”
Doctors feel this will expand the donor pool exclusively for patients who are HIV-positive and now Nieves and the Newton family have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
The doctors say this story exemplifies the importance of becoming an organ donor, which only takes seconds. To register in your state, click here.