The transplants were made possible by 2013's Hope Act, which overturned a previous ban on HIV-positive organ donors

By Alex Heigl
Updated March 31, 2016 12:10 PM
Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty

Surgeons at Johns Hopkins have successfully completed the first HIV-to-HIV organ transplants, the hospital announced Wednesday.

Both procedures – one transplant of a kidney and one of a liver – were made possible by the 2013 Hope Act, which overturned a decades-long ban on allowing HIV-positive individuals to donate organs. (HIV was the only condition 100 percent banned in the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, when the AIDS epidemic was still in its early stages.)

“This opens the doors for so many more of these kind of transplants to happen, so many lives of people with HIV saved by these transplants,” the hospital’s Dr. Dorry Segev explained in a statement.

There are an estimated 120,000 people waiting on organ transplant lists in the U.S., with Hopkins doctors estimating that anywhere from 500 to 600 organs from HIV-positive donors have been wasted.

“A thousand new transplants every year? If we can really reach, that would be a huge increase in the number of transplants,” Dr. Segev said.

Segev fought for six years for federal approval of the surgeries. “It wasn’t a medical issue,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “It was entirely legal.” Segev and his colleagues repeatedly met with figures on Capitol Hill to try and push through legislation that would overturn the law. “The hardest thing was to get it on their radar,” Segev said Wednesday.

In February, Johns Hopkins because the first U.S. hospital to gain approval for the transplants from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit organization that oversees the country’s organ transplant system for the government.

The recipients wished to remain anonymous, but the family of the donor has identified her as a New England woman who “always stuck up for the underdog,” they said in a statement.

“HIV was not a choice she made, but she fought it for herself and our family every day. As we all know, HIV is a stigma and people with the disease are unfortunately at times treated differently … She was able to leave this world helping those underdogs she fought so hard for.”

Both recipients are doing well post-op.