And Martinez, who became HIV-positive after a blood transfusion she received as an infant, said she's glad to be a part of medical history: "Society perceives me and people like me as people who bring death". In addition, South Africa has established a successful track record of HIV-positive to HIV-positive kidney transplants using organs from deceased donors. Once cleared, she successfully donated a kidney to a recipient who wishes to remain anonymous.
Martinez and the recipient will remain on antiretroviral medication indefinitely to control their HIV.
"Here's a disease that in the past was a death sentence and now has been so well controlled that it offers people with that disease an opportunity to save somebody else", said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Hopkins surgeon who pushed for the HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act that lifted a 25-year USA ban on transplants between people with HIV.
"We saw there were people on the transplant list who had HIV who were dying, and at the same time we were unable to use organs from donors who had HIV", Segev explained during the media briefing.
Until now, HIV-positive patients could receive organs from dead HIV-positive patients but not from anyone living with the virus.
That's because US doctors were prevented by law until six years ago from using organs harvested from HIV-positive donors, even if they would be used to save the lives of HIV-positive patients. "I knew I was probably just as healthy as someone not living with HIV who was being evaluated as a kidney donor", she said.
In a statement, Segev estimated that between 500 and 600 HIV-positive people who wanted to be organ donors will die each year. One question is whether receiving an organ from someone with a different strain of HIV than their own poses any risks, but so far there have been no safety problems, said UNOS chief medical officer Dr. David Klassen. The operation was performed by Niraj Desai, an assistant professor of surgery at Hopkins.
"This is the first time someone living with HIV has been allowed to donate a kidney, ever, in the world", Dr Dorry Segev said in a release.
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However, Hopkins researchers reported in a 2017 study that healthy HIV-positive people weren't actually at a significantly higher risk of developing kidney disease when compared to unhealthy HIV-negative people, like heavy smokers or drinkers.
'There are potentially tens of thousands of people living with HIV right now who could be living kidney donors, ' said Segev, who has advised some other hospitals considering the approach.
The kidney donor, Nina Martinez, has had HIV since early childhood.
"For me it was just kind of an opportunity to be the same as anybody else", she said.
In a press conference on Thursday, she said she "wanted to do something to jolt people's perceptions" of HIV.
Meanwhile, Dr. Christine Durand, a professor of medicine and oncology at the medical facility, said the surgery challenges people to look at disease differently. All the HIV-positive organs came from recently deceased people.
Having just one kidney is usually extremely unsafe for an HIV positive person as it puts them at risk of infections. 'That helps everybody on the list'. Then last summer she learned that an HIV-positive friend needed a transplant, and tracked down Segev to ask if she could donate.
A public health consultant who lives in Atlanta, Martinez was aware of the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act when it was enacted in 2013. She made a decision to move forward with the surgery in his honor and donate to a stranger in need.