A woman from Atlanta became the first-ever HIV patient to donate and have her kidney transplanted to another person who also has the disease.
Nina Martinez, 36, gave up one of her kidneys to help save the life of a fellow HIV patient. The surgery was successfully carried out by doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
Both Martinez and the recipient of her organ, who has requested to remain anonymous, are now doing well at the hospital.
A Medical First
Martinez said she contracted HIV in 1983 when she was just a 6-week-old baby. She was given a blood transfusion with what was believed to be a tainted supply. This was during a time when people running blood banks did not routinely test blood donations for potential infections.
HIV sapped much of her health, but she refused to let the disease bring her down. She chose to remain positive throughout the years.
"I really want people to reconsider what living with HIV means," Martinez said. "If anyone is proof that you can live a lifetime with HIV, that is myself. I've been living with HIV for 35 years -- pretty much the length of the epidemic in the United States."
Martinez's courage in facing the disease impressed her doctors at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Dorry Segev, one of the surgeons who conducted the organ transplant, believes the landmark operation is a celebration of medical care for HIV patients and how much it has evolved over the years.
Meanwhile, Dr. Christine Durand, a professor of medicine and oncology at the medical facility, said the surgery challenges people to look at disease differently.
Before Martinez's operation, doctors thought that HIV patients are too much at risk of having kidney disease for them to even be considered as organ donors. They were also more likely to have damaged kidneys because of their use of antiretroviral drugs.
However, newer forms of HIV medications have been shown to be safe for kidneys. This allowed researchers to examine the feasibility of an HIV-to-HIV organ transplant, where both donor and recipient are still alive.
Dr. Durand said Martinez and the kidney recipient are both thankful for the surgery. They are now being observed for potential long-term outcomes of the procedure.
Martinez explained that she was inspired to donate her organ while watching an episode of the popular TV drama Grey's Anatomy. She said she was also excited to become part of medical history.
"I knew that I was the one that they had been waiting for," the HIV patient noted. "For anyone considering embarking on this journey, it's doable.
Reducing HIV Infections In The US
In his recent State of the Union, U.S. President Donald Trump emphasized the need to eliminate HIV transmissions in the country by 2030.
To meet this goal, the Health and Human Services Department unveiled a new initiative to lower disease infections among Americans by as much as 90 percent over the next 10 years.
As of the moment, there are over 1 million people in the U.S. suffering from the debilitating disease. Dr. Segev said Martinez's successful operation offers many of these HIV patients at least "one less stigma" linked to their illness.