World’s first heart transplant between HIV-positive donors performed at NYC hospital

The world’s first heart transplant between HIV-positive donor and recipient was successfully performed at Montefiore Health System in New York City.

According to a Montefiore press release, the organ recipient, who suffered from advanced heart failure, went through a four-hour transplant surgery in early spring. She received a kidney transplant at the same time. After recovering at the hospital for five weeks, she has been seeing her transplant physicians at Montefiore for monitoring.

“Thanks to significant medical advances, people living with HIV are able to control the disease so well that they can now save the lives of other people living with this condition. This surgery is a milestone in the history of organ donation and offers new hope to people who once had nowhere to turn,” said Ulrich P. Jorde, MD, a cardiologist affiliated with Montefiore and also Professor of Medicine at Einstein.

In 2013, the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act was approved, allowing people living with HIV to donate their organs to other HIV-positive individuals. However, it took 10 years for heart transplants among the HIV-positive community to become a reality.

According to the data from Montefiore, there are between 60,000 and 100,000 people who could benefit from a new heart across the United States. Studies point out that most HIV-positive people die from end-stage organ diseases or organ failures instead of infections. However, only about 3,800 transplants were performed in 2021.

“This was a complicated case and a true multidisciplinary effort by cardiology, surgery, nephrology, infectious disease, critical care and immunology,” said the patient’s cardiologist, Omar Saeed, also an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Einstein.

“Making this option available to people living with HIV expands the pool of donors and means more people, with or without HIV, will have quicker access to a lifesaving organ. To say we are proud of what this means for our patients and the medical community at large, is an understatement,” Saeed continued.

HIV-positive patients have not been considered good candidates for organ transplants, due to their short life expectancies. While the federal act went into effect and the United Network for Organ Sharing doesn’t consider HIV a problem for organ transplants, the individual transplant center has the final say in the transplant decision.

There are only 25 centers nationwide eligible to offer the procedure after it met surgical benchmarks and outcomes set by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

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