NYC Doctors perform first ever heart transplant from an HIV-positive donor – hope breakthrough will help tame America’s massive shortage of heart donations
Doctors in New York City have performed the first ever heart transplant from a person who is HIV positive.
An unnamed woman in her 60s who was suffering from advanced heart failure received both a heart and kidney transplant from the same HIV-positive donor in spring, doctors at Montefiore Health in the Bronx, New York City, announced this week. The woman also had HIV herself.
Organ transplants from HIV positive donors had been banned in the U.S. until 2013. Now, they are allowed under the context of research, finding how a body will respond to the new organs.
With over 100,000 Americans waiting for a new organ – and more than a dozen people on that list dying each day – doctors are hopeful that even slightly expanding the pool of donors will allow for more lives to be saved. Matching HIV positive patients to other HIV positive donors could also allow for a more efficient use of other resources.
Doctors in New York City have performed the first ever heart transplant from a person who is HIV positive. An unnamed woman in her 60s who was suffering from advanced heart failure received both a heart and kidney transplant from the same donor (file photo)
‘This is something that has not been done before. It is part of a broader effort to use organs that have historically not been used,’ Dr David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing told DailyMail.com.
WHY MODERN MEDS MEAN HIV IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE
Prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence. Then, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was made to suppress the virus. Now, a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.
Drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person’s risk of contracting the virus by 99%.
In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners.
That has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.
Here is more about the new life-saving and preventative drugs:
1. Drugs for HIV-positive people
It suppresses their viral load so the virus is untransmittable
In 1996, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was discovered.
The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition.
It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.
After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it’s undetectable.
And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health.
Public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).
The demand for new organs will always exceed available supply across the world. Official data shows 106,023 Americans waiting for a organ donation as of Friday afternoon.
For comparison, only around 40,000 transplants are performed every year. This leads to many people dying while awaiting a new organ – and the list of potential recipients is regularly growing as well.
Heart transplants in particular can be hard to find. Recipients must hope an eligible donor emerges whose cause of death did not damage their heart.
This led to doctors at Montefiore – one of 25 hospitals in America eligible to perform the operation – deciding to offer the HIV-positive transplant to a woman who had been waiting for an extended period of time.
‘She was waiting for quite a bit of time and we thought why don’t we discuss this with the patient? And she was really completely fine with and accepted the risks and benefits and signed consent,’ Dr Omar Saeed, a cardiologist at Montefiore told Bronx Times.
Her four hour operation was successful, and after five weeks in the hospital she is continuing recovery at home.
Getting to this point took some time and political will, though. In the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, organ donations from HIV-positive Americans were banned.
On one hand, the ban protected HIV-negative people from getting the virus through shear desperation of getting the organ.
It also prevented HIV-positive recipients, for which receiving an organ from a positive person creates no additional risk.
With medical and technological advancements made in recent years, though, the virus is no longer a death sentence, and more HIV-positive people will need these types of transplants.
An HIV patient can take antiretroviral drugs in perpetuity, which will prevent the virus from forming in AIDS while also preventing them from passing on the infection to someone else.
‘Heart transplantation has always really been constrained,’ Klassmen told DailyMail.com.
‘The treatment of HIV has changed so much over the years that was once a fatal illness is more of chronic illness.’
In 2013, the HOPE (HIV Organ Policy Equity) Act passed, overturning the ban on HIV-positive donor and giving more options for infected people to receive crucial medical treatment.
This makes it even more important to make more avenues available, as HIV-positive patients are living much longer and have more medical needs down the line.
‘Any efforts to expand to pool of potential donors is a good thing,’ he added.