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Woman meets donor’s family after 1st HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant

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A New York woman says she’s feeling “amazingly grateful” after receiving two organ donations and getting the opportunity to meet with her late donor’s family, who flew from Louisiana to the Big Apple to meet with her in person.

Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton on Tuesday at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York City, where she had received treatment for kidney and advanced heart failure.

“I wasn’t able to walk. I wasn’t able to play with my grandkids. I would go to family functions and I would be more laying down in bed versus interacting with my family,” Nieves, 62, told “Good Morning America” of her life before her organ transplants. “That’s not who I am. I’m usually the one that puts the band together so that we could eat together. I’m constantly pulling everybody to get together. And I was only existing, I really wasn’t living.”

Nieves, who is HIV-positive, would eventually undergo not one but two organ transplants. With the help of her team of Montefiore doctors and surgeons, Nieves was matched with an HIV-positive donor, Newton, who was only 30 when she died.

Although doctors have performed HIV-positive to HIV-positive organ transplants in the past, this is the world’s first instance of an HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant according to Montefiore Health System.

Dr. Omar Saeed, a heart transplant cardiologist at Montefiore, is also Nieves’ cardiologist. He said the successful transplants will pave new ground for HIV-positive patients.

PHOTO: The family of the late Brittany Newton (pictured in photo) and Miriam Nieves, a recipient of the late Newton's heart and kidney, pose with the medical team who helped facilitate the organ donations.

Montefiore Health System

The family of the late Brittany Newton (pictured in photo) and Miriam Nieves, a recipient of the late Newton’s heart and kidney, pose with the medical team who helped facilitate the organ donations.

“It’s Miriam’s courage and bravery and Brittany and her family’s incredible act of kindness and compassion, I think, that is really central to all of this,” Saeed told “GMA.” “We can learn from that, we can all learn from it and at that core, we can use science to expand these boundaries.”

Newton’s sister Breanne Newton said meeting the woman who now has a second chance at life with her late sister’s heart and kidney was “truly a blessing.”

“It’s a blessing to know that my sister’s heart is going to be taken care of by her because she’s so sweet,” Breanne Newton told “GMA.” “She kind of reminds me a little bit about my sister because she said that she likes to just get out and go and do things and that’s how Brittany was. Brittany never sit still. She was always, you know, doing something. And just to know that they kind of resemble each other a little bit brings a little more joy to my life.”

PHOTO: Breanne Newton, sister of the late Brittany Newton, listened to her sister's heart, which was donated to Miriam Nieves during a press conference at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Courtesy Montefiore Health System

Breanne Newton, sister of the late Brittany Newton, listened to her sister’s heart, which was donated to Miriam Nieves during a press conference at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Both Breanne Newton and Nieves say they now consider each other family.

“When I talked to Breanne, I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to meet you’ and when they walked in to the room, and they stood up, I just wanted to embrace them and the feeling was overwhelmingly good,” Nieves recalled. “It was a beautiful, warm, breathtaking feeling in my heart. I felt the connection. I knew the connection was there. Words can’t describe how I feel even right now.”

Their message now since meeting is to encourage others to consider giving the gift of organ donation.

PHOTO: Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton in person for the first time on Nov. 22. Nieves received a donated heart and kidney from the late Newton earlier this year

Courtesy Montefiore Health System

Miriam Nieves met the family of the late Brittany Newton in person for the first time on Nov. 22. Nieves received a donated heart and kidney from the late Newton earlier this year

“If you’re HIV positive, please become a donor. You could save another HIV-positive person,” Nieves said, adding that “it’s not the end of the world” if you have HIV.

“If you’re not HIV-positive,” she added, “be a donor because you could save another human being’s life and today, we need kindness in this world and we need love and we need to give back and we need to give back to one another.”

Breanne Newton also encouraged others to consider donation. “I think that there should be more donors giving back. It’s OK to give an organ to save someone else’s life,” she said. “[This] brought more closure to me knowing that my sister still lives on through her and maybe someone else as well but just to know that her organs are still here and working and functioning good, it just brings so much joy to me.”

Saeed added, “We hope that this case demonstrates a doorway into the incredible power that donors with HIV have of saving other people’s lives, including donating their heart.”

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