First HIV-positive kidney transplant succeeds

Alicia Farmer
March 30, 2019

The surgical team at Johns Hopkins found that Martinez had healthy kidneys and a very low amount of HIV in her blood.

Organs have been transplanted from an HIV-positive cadaver to an HIV-positive patient; however, HIV is known to cause kidney disease, so people living with HIV have not previously been able to donate kidneys.

As per the CNN report, both the recipient and donor are in good health and will be on medications indefinitely to suppress their HIV.

That's because US doctors were prevented by law until six years ago from using organs harvested from HIV-positive donors, even if they would be used to save the lives of HIV-positive patients.

There's no count of how many HIV-positive patients are among the 113,000 people on the nation's waiting list for an organ transplant, but Dr. Christine Durand, an associate professor of medicine and oncology at Johns Hopkins and one of Martinez's doctors, estimated about 10,000.

However, newer forms of HIV medications have been shown to be safe for kidneys.

Transplants slowly increased as more evidence proved liver and kidney recipients with HIV survived at rates similar to patients without the virus.

"For us, this is not only a celebration of transplantation, but a celebration of the progress of HIV care", said Dr. Dorry Segev, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"There are potentially tens of thousands of people living with HIV right now who could be living kidney donors", said Segev, who has advised some other hospitals considering the approach.

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By not having to rely exclusively on organs from the deceased, doctors may now have a larger number of kidneys available for transplant.

However, this transplant changes conventional perception and is a boon to the HIV-positive patients that are looking for organ transplants. The recipient, for the first time in a year, will not be needing dialysis.

"That's one less person waiting for a limited resource", Desai said.

She was inspired to donate her kidney by an episode of "Grey's Anatomy", she said, adding that she was excited to be part of a medical first. "That helps everybody on the list". "Usually when society thinks of people with HIV, they think of people who look like they have HIV, they think of people from the 1980s".

"I am hoping this leads to a ripple effect", said Durand.

In his recent State of the Union, U.S. President Donald Trump emphasized the need to eliminate HIV transmissions in the country by 2030. The legislation drastically cuts the waiting time for recipients with HIV who are willing to accept an organ from a person with the virus from years to months, Florman said.

Martinez, a public health consultant and longtime clinical research volunteer, became interested in living donation even before HIV-to-HIV transplants began.

While battling emotions- Martinez wanted to finish what she started- honoring her friend by still donating.

"The medical side of a living donor transplant is we want to make sure that the donor remains healthy for the rest of their life and can live their long and healthy life with only one kidney", Segev explained.

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