Doctors perform world’s first heart transplant between two HIV-positive patients

The law making such transplants possible came about in 2013.
Loukia Papadopoulos
heart transplant.jpg
The heart transplant is the first of its kind.:Dmitrii Balabanov/iStock
  • The surgery is the world's first of its kind.
  • It took four hours to complete.
  • The patient is reported to be doing well.

Not many things today can be considered miracles, but this latest event sure does qualify. Doctors at Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, New York, successfully performed the world’s first HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant on a woman in her sixties who suffered from advanced heart failure, according to a press release by the hospital.

A life-saving donation

She received the life-saving donation, along with a simultaneous kidney transplant, in early Spring. The surgery took a mere four hours.

Montefiore is one of only 25 centers in the United States eligible to offer this complex surgery. The hospital is renowned for spearheading innovative methods, like transplanting a heart from a donor who died.

“The goal of the Montefiore heart transplant team is to constantly push and establish new standards so that anyone who is appropriate for an organ transplant can benefit from this life-saving procedure,” said Daniel Goldstein, M.D., professor and Vice Chair, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Surgical Director, Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery Cardiac Transplantation & Mechanical Assistance Programs, Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Einstein).

Doctors perform world’s first heart transplant between two HIV-positive patients
Surgeries are complicated procedures.
Akarawut Lohacharoenvanich/iStock

The law enabling people living with HIV to donate their organs to an HIV-positive recipient, called the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, was enacted in 2013, but it has taken almost 10 years for this opportunity to become a reality for heart transplantation.

Opening doors for new patients

“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, M.D., Section Head - Heart Failure, Cardiac Transplantation & Mechanical Circulatory Support, and Vice Chief, Division of Cardiology at Montefiore and Professor of Medicine at Einstein.

This new procedure may open doors for many patients. In the United States alone, there are between 60,000 and 100,000 patients in need of a new heart, but only around 3,800 such transplant surgeries 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, Dr. Omar Saeed, who is 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.”