Woman meets donor family after 1st HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant


A New York woman says she feels “amazingly grateful” after receiving two organ donations and getting the chance to meet her late donor’s family, who flew from Louisiana to the Big Apple to meet her in person.

Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton on Tuesday at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, where she was being treated for kidney failure and advanced heart failure.

“I couldn’t walk. I wasn’t able to play with my grandkids. I’d go to family events and I’d be in bed more than hanging out with my family,” Nieves, 62, told “Good Morning.” Americaā€¯ of her life before the organ transplant. “That’s not me. I’m usually the one who gets the band together so we can eat together. I’m constantly pulling everyone to get together. And I just existed, I didn’t really live.”

Nieves, who is HIV positive, would eventually undergo not one, but two organ transplants. With the help of her team of Montefiore doctors and surgeons, Nieves was matched with an HIV-positive donor, Newton, who was just 30 years old when she died.

Although doctors have performed HIV-positive-to-HIV-positive organ transplants in the past, this is the first case of an HIV-positive-to-HIV-positive heart transplant in the world, according to Montefiore Health System.

Dr. Omar Saeed, a heart transplant cardiologist at Montefiore, is also Nieves’ cardiologist. He said successful transplants will pave new ground for HIV-positive patients.

PHOTO: The family of the late Brittany Newton (pictured) and Miriam Nieves, the recipient of the late Newton's heart and kidneys, pose with the medical team that helped facilitate organ donation.

Montefiore Health System

The family of the late Brittany Newton (pictured) and Miriam Nieves, the recipient of the late Newton’s heart and kidneys, pose with the medical team that helped facilitate organ donation.

“I think it’s the courage and bravery of Miriam and the incredible act of kindness and compassion from Brittany and her family,” Saeed told “GMA.” “We can learn from this, we can all learn from this, and at the core we can use science to expand those boundaries.”

Newton’s sister, Breanne Newton, said it was “truly a blessing” to meet the woman who now has a second chance at life with her late sister’s heart and kidneys.

“It’s a blessing to know that she’s going to take care of my sister’s heart because she’s so sweet,” Breanne Newton told “GMA.” “She kind of reminds me of my sister, because she said she likes to get out and do things, and that’s how Brittany was. Brittany never sat still. You know, she was always doing something. And just Knowing that they’re kind of alike brings to my life a little more joy.”

PHOTO: Breanne Newton, sister of the late Brittany Newton, listens to her sister's heart, which was donated to Miriam Nieves, during a news conference at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Courtesy of Montefiore Health System

Breanne Newton, sister of the late Brittany Newton, listens to her sister’s heart, which was donated to Miriam Nieves, during a news conference at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Both Breanne Newton and Nieves say they now consider themselves family.

“When I was talking to Breanne, I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to meet you,’ and when they walked into the room and stood up, I just wanted to hug them and it felt so good.” Nieves recalled. “It was a beautiful, warm, breathtaking feeling in my heart. I felt the connection. I knew the connection was there. Words cannot describe how I feel right now.”

Their message from the meeting is to encourage others to consider organ donation.

PHOTO: Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton in person for the first time on November 22.  Nieves received a donated heart and kidney from the late Newton earlier this year.

Courtesy of Montefiore Health System

Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton in person for the first time on November 22nd. Nieves received a donated heart and kidney from the late Newton earlier this year

“If you are HIV positive, please become a donor. You could save another HIV positive person,” Nieves said, adding that “it’s not the end of the world” if you have HIV.

“If you’re not HIV positive,” she added, “be a donor because you could save the life of another human being, and we need kindness in this world today and we need love and we need to give back and we need to give back to each other.”

Breanne Newton also encouraged others to consider donating. “I think there should be more donors who give back. It’s okay to give an organ to save someone else’s life,” she said. “[This] it gave me more closure knowing that my sister is still living through her and maybe someone else, but just knowing that her organs are still here and working and working well brings me so much joy.”

Saeed added: “We hope this case demonstrates a gateway to the incredible power HIV donors have in saving other people’s lives, including by donating their hearts.”

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