New York doctors perform first-ever heart transplant from an HIV-positive donor – hope this breakthrough will help bring massive shortage of donor hearts in the United States under control
- The first-ever HIV-positive heart transplant was performed in Bronx, New York, in the spring
- The unnamed patient is in her 60s and also received a new kidney from the same donor
- Until 2013, these types of operations were prohibited and can still only be carried out for research purposes.
- Advocates hope restrictions on HIV-positive organ donors will be lifted, offering more potential treatments to those in need
Doctors in New York have performed the first-ever heart transplant on an HIV-positive person.
An unnamed woman in her 60s who suffered from advanced heart failure received a heart and kidney transplant from the same HIV-positive donor in the spring, doctors at Montefiore Health in Bronx, New York, announced this week. The woman also had HIV herself.
Organ transplants from HIV-positive donors were banned in the United States until 2013. Now they are allowed for research, to determine how a body will react to new organs.
With more than 100,000 Americans waiting for a new organ — and more than a dozen people on that list dying every day — doctors are hoping that even a small expansion of the donor pool will save more lives. Matching HIV-positive patients with other HIV-positive donors could also allow more efficient use of other resources.
Doctors in New York have performed the first-ever heart transplant on an HIV-positive person. An unnamed woman in her 60s who suffered from advanced heart failure received a heart and kidney transplant from the same donor (file photo)
“This is something that hasn’t been done before. It’s part of a larger effort to use organs that have never been used,” said Dr David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing at DailyMail.com.
WHY MODERN DRUGS MEAN HIV IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE
Before 1996, HIV was a death sentence. Then, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was started to suppress the virus. Today, a person can live as long as anyone else, even if they are HIV positive.
Drugs have also been invented to reduce the risk of contracting the virus in an HIV-negative person by 99%.
In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus intransmissible to sexual partners.
This has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on expensive drugs for life, but it does not mean certain death.
Learn more about new life-saving and preventative drugs:
1. Medicines for people with HIV
It suppresses their viral load so the virus is intransmissible
In 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART) was discovered.
The drug, a triple combination, transformed HIV from a deadly diagnosis into a manageable chronic disease.
It suppresses the virus, preventing it from turning into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which makes the body unable to resist infections.
After six months of religiously taking the pill daily, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it is undetectable.
And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to numerous studies, including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health.
Public health organizations around the world now recognize that U = U (undetectable = untransmittable).
The demand for new organs will always exceed the supply available worldwide. Official data shows 106,023 Americans were waiting for organ donation as of Friday afternoon.
For comparison, only about 40,000 transplants are performed each year. This leads to many people dying while waiting for a new organ – and the list of potential recipients is also steadily growing.
Heart transplants in particular can be difficult to find. Recipients must hope that an eligible donor emerges whose cause of death did not damage their heart.
This led doctors at Montefiore – one of 25 US hospitals eligible to perform the operation – to decide to offer the HIV-positive transplant to a long-awaited woman.
“She had been waiting for quite a while and we thought why not discuss it with the patient?” And she was really all for it and accepted the risks and the benefits and signed her consent,’ Montefiore cardiologist Dr. Omar Saeed told The Bronx Times.
Her four-hour operation was successful and after five weeks in hospital, she is continuing her recovery at home.
Getting to this point, however, took time and political will. In the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, organ donation from HIV-positive Americans was banned.
On the one hand, the ban prevented HIV-negative people from contracting the virus by despairing of getting the organ.
She also warned HIV-positive recipients that receiving an organ from an HIV-positive person poses no additional risk.
However, thanks to medical and technological advances in recent years, the virus is no longer a death sentence and more people with HIV will need these types of transplants.
An HIV-positive patient can take antiretroviral drugs for life, which will prevent the virus from forming into AIDS while preventing them from passing the infection on to someone else.
“Heart transplantation has always been really limited,” Klassmen told DailyMail.com.
“The treatment of HIV has changed so much over the years that it was once a fatal disease rather than a chronic disease.”
In 2013, the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act was passed, reversing the ban on HIV-positive donors and giving infected people more options to receive crucial medical treatment.
This makes it all the more important to open up more pathways, as HIV-positive patients live much longer and have more long-term medical needs.
“Any effort to broaden the pool of potential donors is a good thing,” he added.
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