First Living HIV-positive Gay Man Donates Kidney

Being a longtime nurse Karl Neumann of Norfolk, Va., understands just how critical it is to have a robust community blood supply available. However, as a sexually active gay man, he is banned from donating blood because of a federal law. 

“It’s frustrating that there are shortages of blood, but certain people are still restricted from giving blood at a time when modern medicine can easily test for diseases.” 

Karl worries confusion or resentment regarding the “blood ban” might prevent gay men from realizing that they have another opportunity to heal and save lives – by registering to be organ donors. 

“I’ve worked in transplantation most of my career and there are not enough organs available for the number of people waiting for a transplant. Unfortunately, I’ve had several patients that I cared for die because the organ they needed was not donated in time.” 

Currently, more than 113,000 people in the United States are waiting for a lifesaving transplant, and that staggering number is one of the reasons why Karl, who is HIV-positive, decided to donate his kidney as a living donor. 

In 2013, the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act(HOPE Act) was signed into law allowing HIV-positive patients on the national transplant waiting list to receive organs from HIV-positive donors who are living or deceased. Unbeknownst to Karl, his decision would be very significant, as he would become only the second living person with HIV to donate a kidney in the U.S., and the first HIV-positive gay man to be a living donor. 

“It gave me pause being one of the first people but then I realized what a great opportunity it was. We are still in the research phase of transplanting organs HIV-to-HIV, and the more procedures that have a successful outcome means more lives saved.” 

Last summer, Karl traveled to Duke Health in Durham, N.C., to donate his kidney to an anonymous HIV-positive recipient. He is hopeful the recipient is regaining his or her health and enjoying an improved quality of life post-transplantation. 

Karl says regardless of the myths and misconceptions that exist, everyone can register to be an organ donor regardless of gender identity or expression, choice of sexual partner or HIV status. 

“Donating a kidney with HIV is normal and it can happen,” said Karl. “Being HIV-positive does not put me in danger or make me ill. I am healthy and will likely live a longer life than most people, and for that I am grateful. The least I could do was pay it forward and give life to another human being.” 

As of September 2019, 160 HIV-positive organs have been donated and transplanted, including 116 kidneys from deceased donors, 2 kidneys from living donors and 42 livers from deceased donors. December is AIDS Awareness Month and Karl wants to spread awareness that HIV-positive patients can give and receive the gift of life. 

For more information or to register to be an organ donor, visit BeADonor.org

Washington Regional Transplant Community is the non-profit organ procurement organization for the metro D.C. area responsible for recovering and distributing organs and tissues used in lifesaving and life-enhancing transplants. WRTC serves approximately 5.5 million people, 44 hospitals and six transplant centers. Visit BeADonor.org for more facts and information that can help you make a legal and informed decision about donation.