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By Associated Press
Surgeons in Baltimore have performed what is considered to be the world's first kidney transplant from a living donor with HIV, a milestone for patients with AIDS virus in need a new body. If other donors with HIV emerged, it could free up space on the transplant waiting list for everyone.
Nina Martinez from Atlanta traveled to Johns Hopkins University to donate a kidney to a HIV positive stranger and said she "would make a difference in the lives of others" and counteract stigma that often still surrounds HIV infection.
Many believe that "someone with HIV should look sick," Martinez, 35, said The Associated Press before Monday's surgery. "It is a powerful statement to show someone like myself who is healthy enough to be a living organ donor."
Hopkins, who publishes the Transplantation Group on Thursday, said both Martinez and the recipient of her kidney who chose to remain anonymous
"Here is a disease that was previously the death sentence, and now it has been so well controlled, that it gives people with that disease an opportunity to save others, "said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Hopkins surgeon who pushed the HIV organ policy, or the HOPE Act, which lifted a 25-year-old US ban on transplanting people with HIV.
There are no counts of how many HIV positive patients who are among the 113,000 people on the nation's waiting list for organ transplantation. HIV-positive patients can receive grafts from HIV-negative donors like everyone else.
Only in the last few years, spurred by some groundbreaking operations in South Africa, doctors have begun to transplant organs from deceased donors with HIV to patients who also have the virus, organs that would once have been thrown away.
Since 2016, 116 such kidney and liver transplants have been performed in the United States as part of a United Network for Organ Sharing study, or UNOS, which oversees the transplant system. One question is whether you receive a body from a person with a different HIV load than their own poses a risk, but so far there have been no safety issues, says UNOS doctor, Dr. David Klassen.
Hopkins & # 39; Segev said Monday's kidney transplant was the world's first. Doctors had hesitated to allow people still living with HIV to donate because of concern that their remaining kidney would be at risk of virus or older medication used to treat it.
But newer anti-HIV drugs are safer and more effective, said Segev. His team recently examined the kidney's health on 40,000 HIV-positive people and concluded that those with well-controlled HIV and no other kidney damage, such as high blood pressure, should have the same risk of living donation as anyone without HIV.
"There are potentially tens of thousands of people living with HIV right now who can be living kidney donors," says Segev, who has advised some other hospitals considering the approach.
Generally, kidneys from living donors continue longer, Dr. Niraj Desai, the Hopkins surgeon takes care of the recipient. And if more people living with HIV stop donating, it helps more than HIV-positive patients who need a kidney.
"It's a smaller person waiting for a limited resource," Desai said. "It all helps in the list."
Martinez, a public health consultant, became interested in live donation even before HIV-to-HIV transplants began. So last summer she learned that an HIV-positive friend needed a transplant and tracked down Segev to ask if she could donate.
Her friend died before Martinez completed the necessary health tests, but she decided to honor him by donating to someone she didn't know.
A runner planning to make this fall marathon marathon, "I knew I was just as healthy as someone who didn't live with HIV, who was rated as a kidney donor," Martinez said. "I've never been sure of anything."