At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, surgeons successfully transplanted a kidney from a living HIV-positive donor to an HIV-positive recipient, “a medical breakthrough they hope will expand the pool of available organs and help change perceptions of HIV,” reported The Washington Post. And the doctors say the recipient no longer needs kidney dialysis for the first time in a year.
The donor, Nina Martinez, who acquired HIV from a blood transfusion as an infant, said prior to the operation, “Society perceives me and people like me as people who bring death and I can’t figure out any better way to show that people like me can bring life.”
Surgeons have transplanted 116 organs from deceased HIV-positive donors to recipients with HIV since 2016, when a new law allowing that surgery took effect. However, one question which remains 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, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing which oversees the transplant system.
“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, the act that lifted a 25-year U.S. ban on transplants between people with HIV.
For years, 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, Segev told the National Post. His team recently studied the kidney health of 40,000 HIV-positive people and concluded 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.