A Westchester woman who is HIV-positive and received the first-ever HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant met her donor’s family face-to-face for the first time Tuesday.
Miriam Nieves, 62, met the mother and sisters of her donor Brittany Newton at Montefiore Medical Center, where the heart transplant was performed in April last year. 30-year-old Newton, a certified nursing assistant who had lived in Louisiana, passed away last spring after a brain aneurysm.
“The only words that come this Thanksgiving for me is, I am so thankful and so grateful for science, for my family, for my God,” Nieves, married mother of three and grandmother of six said after meeting her donor’s family. “But I can’t express enough that if it wasn’t for the donors, they are my angels, because they are the ones that allow me this second opportunity.”
Nieves’ kidney failed, followed by her heart after beating a heroin addiction 30 years ago that left her HIV-positive, the Associated Press reported. Many heart transplant centers in the U.S. told her they cannot offer her a heart transplant. To get a match for her, doctors at the hospital decided to include HIV-positive donors in their search. They found another HIV-positive heart belonging to Newton, whose family found out she had HIV after her death.
Doctors transplanted Newton’s heart and kidney into Nieves, a former public relations professional. For years now, organs have been transplanted from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients, however, doctors at Montefiore said this was the first such transplant of a heart, according to the Associated Press.
“For the first time ever, we would take a heart from someone that’s HIV-positive to be transplanted into a recipient that’s HIV-positive. Never been done before,” cardiologist Dr. Omar Saeed was quoted by CBS News. “I think it’s going to be done again because we’ve shown that it’s safe,” Saeed said.
On Tuesday, Newton’s sisters, Breanne and Brianca Newton, used a stethoscope to listen to the beating heart. They were glad that their sister had given another woman a second chance at life. Newton’s mother, Bridgette Newton, came along with a photo of her daughter.
“My child is still walking around,” she said. “And for that I will forever be grateful.”