Doctors complete first living kidney transplant from one HIV-positive person to another

“I want people to change what they believe they know about HIV," the donor said.

A team of doctors has performed a kidney transplant for the first time ever from one person living with HIV to another.

The ground-breaking operation was completed Monday by a multidisciplinary team from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. The transplant donor and the anonymous recipient, who are both HIV-positive, are said to be doing well.

“This is the first time someone living with HIV has been allowed to donate a kidney, ever, in the world, and that’s huge,” Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement Thursday. “A disease that was a death sentence in the 1980s has become one so well-controlled that those living with HIV can now save lives with kidney donation — that’s incredible.”

Recent research conducted by Segev and his colleagues on over 40,000 HIV-positive individuals showed that the new antiretroviral drugs, which suppress the AIDS-causing virus, are safe for the kidney, and that people living with well-controlled HIV are healthy enough to donate kidneys and face basically the same risks as those who don't have HIV.

“As patients waiting for a transplant see that we’re working with as many donors as possible to save as many lives as possible, we’re giving them hope," Dr. Christine Durand, associate professor of medicine and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement Thursday. "Every successful transplant shortens the wait list for all patients, no matter their HIV status.”

The HIV-positive donor, 35-year-old Nina Martinez, said she was inspired to participate in the clinical research after a friend became a living kidney donor.

"I bore witness to my friend providing a lifesaving transplant, and in watching her I knew that if there was a way for me to help someone else, I had to do it," Martinez, a public health consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, said in a statement Thursday. "Doing so under a research protocol was very comfortable for me.”

Losing a friend to kidney disease last year made Martinez even more determined to become a donor, she said.

"Other people living with HIV before me participated in clinical research so that I could not just survive but thrive," she added. "It was my turn to do this, for both my friend that I cared about and all people waiting on a transplant.”

Martinez said she hopes the transplant will help lift the stigma still surrounding HIV.

“Some people believe that people living with HIV are ‘sick,’ or look unwell,” she said. “I want people to change what they believe they know about HIV. I don’t want to be anyone’s hero. I want to be someone’s example, someone’s reason to consider donating.”