Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeons successfully transplanted a kidney from a living HIV-positive donor to an HIV-positive recipient for the first time in history, the Washington Post reports. The Post called the transplant a "medical breakthrough."
35-year-old Nina Martinez and the anonymous receiver are both recovering after the surgery, which took place on Monday. For the first time in a year, the recipient does not need kidney dialysis.
Martinez said that the transplant was the ultimate rebuff to people who still believe that HIV is a death sentence, which it was often called during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
"Society perceives me, and people like me, as people who bring death," Martinez told the Post. "And I can't figure out any better way to show that people like me can bring life."
"People with HIV today can't donate blood. But now they're able to donate a kidney," said Dorry Segev, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research team and performed the surgery to remove Martinez's left kidney. "They have a disease that 30 years ago was a death sentence. Today, they're so healthy they can give someone else life."
Since 2016, when a new law allowed people living with HIV to donate organs, surgeons have transplanted 116 organs from dead HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients.
Prior to Monday's surgery, the medical community believed that an HIV-positive person with one kidney would be too susceptible to kidney disease. But a 2017 study showed that a healthy HIV-positive donors' risk of developing serious kidney disease was not much great than someone without HIV.
Doctors are monitoring the recipient as they may have a different strain of HIV than Martinez, which means it may have different resistances to HIV medication. The recipient of the kidney must also take drugs to prevent organ rejection, which is not expected to interfere with their HIV regimen.
Martinez is a public health consultant who knew about the updated laws allowing for HIV-positive people to donate organs. She was inspired to become a donor after seeing an episode of Grey's Anatomy in which a live HIV-positive donor was able to give an organ.
"When I take this recipient off the list, everyone moves up," she said, "whether they have HIV or not."