NEW YORK - Miriam Nieves of Westchester County was part of a very special family reunion on Tuesday. The 62-year-old met the family of the donor who gave her a second chance at life.
"I can't express enough that if it wasn't for the donors, they are my angels," Nieves said.
Nieves is the world's first HIV-positive-to-HIV-positive heart transplant recipient.
She contracted HIV in her early 30s while battling drug addiction.
In 2006, a kidney cancer diagnosis led to the need for a kidney transplant. While waiting for a match, doctors discovered her heart was deteriorating and needed replacing as well.
She went on the wait list for both a heart and a kidney. In April, she got a call that a match had been found in Louisiana. A 30-year-old nursing student named Brittany Newton had tragically passed away. Britanny was also HIV-positive.
"She had a very sweet, helpful, forgiving and protective spirit," Briene Newton, Britanny's sister, said. "She was truly loved by her family and to know her was to love her as well."
Miriam Nieves and the family of Brittany Newton meet at Montefiore-Einstein Transplant Center.
A skilled team of specialists at Montefiore-Einstein Transplant Center in the Bronx performed the double transplant surgery over two days in April.
Tuesday was the first time Miriam met Brittany's family, who flew in from Louisiana. Doctors gave the Newton family stethoscopes to hear Brittany's heart beating inside Miriam's chest.
"It came at the right time. I hate the way that it came but it came the right time," Bridget Newton, Britanny's mother, said. "My child is still walking around."
Miriam's son, Edwin Feliciano, said the whole family is so thankful.
"My kids benefit from this greatly and I have four. My brother's kids benefit from this," Feliciano said. "We benefit from this and I hope you all know how grateful we are."
"God placed Brittany in my life so that I could have a second chance and meet my new family," Nieves said.