By TED SHAFFREY and DEEPTI HAJELA, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A woman who got a new lease on life after a groundbreaking heart transplant between an HIV-positive donor and recipient was able to meet the family of the woman who gave it to her, giving them a chance to hear the heart of his beloved beating in his new home.
Miriam Nieves, 62, excitedly hugged Tuesday the mother and sisters of Brittany Newton, a 30-year-old Louisiana woman whose heart she received earlier this year in what doctors at Montefiore Medical Center said was the first heart transplant from an HIV-positive donor. to an HIV positive recipient.
“The only words that come this Thanksgiving for me are, I am so thankful and so thankful for science, for my family, for my God,” Nieves said. “But I can’t express enough that if it wasn’t for the donors, they are my angels, because they are the ones that allow me this second chance.”
Newton’s mother, Bridgette Newton, carried a large photo of her daughter, a certified nursing assistant who died of a brain aneurysm.
“My son is still walking,” she said. “And for that I will always be grateful.”
Newton’s sisters, Breanne and Brianca, used a stethoscope to listen to her heartbeat in Nieves’s chest.
Breanne Newton wasn’t surprised when she heard Nieves say she had more energy now.
“That was my sister. She had energy. She was an assistant,” said Breanne Newton, adding: “We are very, very grateful. And she’s just a blessing.”
The transplant occurred in April.
Nieves, a former public relations professional who now lives in Westchester, north of New York City, overcame a heroin addiction 30 years ago but remained HIV positive.
The married mother of three and grandmother of six began experiencing heart failure after problems with her kidneys.
To find a match when donor shortages are acute, hospital doctors broadened their search to include HIV-positive donors. Enter Newton, an organ donor whose family only learned of his HIV status after his death.
Doctors transplanted his heart and kidney to Nieves.
“This has never been done before,” said Dr. Omar Saeed, a transplant cardiologist at Montefiore. “I think it will be done again because we have shown that it is safe.”
“The reality is that there are more people who need hearts than hearts are available,” said Dr. Vagish Hemmige, an infectious disease specialist at the center. “The HIV Heart Transplant Program enables people living with HIV to receive life-saving transplants from otherwise unused donors.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.