A New York woman says she feels “incredibly grateful” after receiving two organ donations and being given the chance to meet her late donor’s family, who flew from Louisiana to the Big Apple to meet her in person.
Miriam Nieves met with the family of the late Brittany Newton on Tuesday at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York City, where she was being treated for kidney failure and advanced heart failure.
“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t play with my grandchildren. I went to family gatherings and I spent more time in bed than 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 who puts the band together so we can eat together. I’m constantly pulling everyone to get together. And I just existed, I really wasn’t alive.”
Nieves, who is HIV positive, would eventually undergo not one but two organ transplants. With the help of her team of doctors and surgeons in Montefiore, Nieves was matched with an HIV-positive donor, Newton, who was just 30 when she died.
While doctors have performed HIV-positive to HIV-positive organ transplants in the past, this is the world’s first case of an HIV-positive to HIV-positive heart transplant, according to the Montefiore Health System.
Dr. Omar Saeed, a heart transplant cardiologist in Montefiore, is also Nieves’ cardiologist. He said the successful transplants will pave new paths for HIV-positive patients.
“It’s Miriam’s courage and bravery and the incredible act of kindness and compassion from Brittany and her family, I think, that’s really at the center of all of this,” Saeed told “GMA.” “We can learn from that, we can all learn from it, and at its core, we can use the science to push these boundaries.”
Newton’s sister Breanne Newton said it was “truly a blessing” to meet the woman who now has a second chance at life with her late sister’s heart and kidney.
“It’s a blessing to know that my sister’s heart will be taken care of by her because she’s so sweet,” Breanne Newton told “GMA.” “She kind of reminds me of my sister because she said she likes to just get out there and do things and that’s how Brittany was. Brittany never sat still. She was always, you know, on to something doing it. And just knowing that they’re a little bit alike brings a little more joy to my life.”
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 came into the room and got up I just wanted to hug them and the feeling was overwhelmingly good.” Nieves recalled. was a beautiful, warm, breathtaking feeling in my heart. I felt the connection. I knew the connection was there. Words cannot describe how I feel right now.”
Their message since meeting has been to encourage others to consider organ donation as a gift.
“If you are 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 are not HIV positive,” she added, “be a donor because you can save another human’s life and today we need kindness in this world and we need love and we need to give back and we should give back to each other.”
Breanne Newton also encouraged others to consider donating. “I think there should be more donors giving back. It’s okay to give an organ to save someone else’s life,” she said. “[This] brought me more closure knowing that my sister is still alive through her and maybe through someone else, but just to know that her organs are still there and working and functioning properly, it just gives me so much joy.
Saeed added: “We hope this case shows a doorway to the incredible power donors living with HIV have to save other people’s lives, including donating their hearts.”