A New York woman met the family of her heart donor following the first HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant. Miriam Nieves, 62, met the family of the late Brittany Newton on Nov. 22 in the Bronx.
Nieves is HIV-positive and was suffering from heart and kidney failure as a patient at the Montefiore Medical Center when she had two organ transplants after being matched with Newton in April. Newton was just 30 when she died of a brain aneurysm.
Newton’s sister, Breanne Newton, told Good Morning America that it was a blessing to meet Nieves and described her as “sweet.” She also said Nieves reminded her of her late sister.
“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. 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,” she said.
“Brittany never sat 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.”
Breanne added that more people should become organ donors and noted that seeing her sister’s organ recipient brought her closure.
“I think that there should be more donors giving back,” she said. “It’s OK to give an organ to save someone else’s life. 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.”
Nieves said that she was unable to walk or enjoy her family prior to the transplant and spent much of the time laying in her bed.
“That’s not who I am,” she said. “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.”
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Nieves went on to say that she now considers Newton’s family her own, and the feeling is mutual.
“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,” said Nieves.
“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.”
Dr. Omar Saeed is the cardiologist who performed the surgery and noted the successful transplant will help future HIV-positive patients.
“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. We can learn from that, we can all learn from it and at that core, we can use science to expand these boundaries,” said Saeed. “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.”
Nieves wants everyone who is HIV-positive to know that “it’s not the end of the world.” She also hopes that they become organ donors. “If you’re HIV positive, please become a donor. You could save another HIV-positive person.”
Newton’s mother, Bridgette Newton, said she was grateful that a piece of her child was still alive.
“My child is still walking around,” she said. “And for that, I will forever be grateful.”