NORWOOD, The Bronx (WABC) -- Doctors made medical history earlier this year when they performed the world's first HIV-positive to an HIV-positive heart transplant.
On Tuesday, the recipient was able to meet the donor's family for the first time.
Miriam Nieves, 62, said the face-to-face meeting made her heart race -- her new heart that was transplanted in April as part of a first-of-its-kind surgery at Montefiore Health System.
"They are my family now, I am alive because of my family," Nieves said.
Brittany Newton, 30, of Louisiana, was a registered organ donor and HIV-positive.
Since 2013, HIV patients have been allowed to donate organs to others who are HIV-positive.
Nieves contracted the virus during years of substance abuse. She has been clean for 30 years but in declining health.
When doctors evaluated her for a kidney transplant, they determined her heart wouldn't survive the surgery -- she needed both organs.
While some 3,800 heart transplants were performed last year in the U.S., less than 50 HIV-positive patients have ever gotten a heart from a non-HIV-positive donor -- meaning Nieves' chances were next to nil.
"There's a quiet intellectual discrimination that goes on with HIV patients, what I mean by that is a lot of centers don't feel they're comfortable taking care of these people," said Dr. Daniel Goldstein.
The biggest obstacle is giving already immunocompromised patients even more immuno-suppressing medicine to fight rejection.
But for Nieves, the surgery was a new lease on life.
"I know Brittany had a lot of energy because my family can't keep up with me anymore," Nieves said.
The medical breakthrough left both families thankful during the holiday season.
"It came at the right time, I hate the way it came, but it came at the right time, my child is still walking around, and for that I will be forever grateful, believe that," Brittany's mother Bridgette newtown said.
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