First person to receive heart transplant from a pig dies two months later

Mar 9 2022, 8:39 pm

In his battle with terminal heart disease, Maryland resident David Bennett received a “genetically modified pig’s heart.” The surgery was the first of its kind and was held at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

UMMC issued a press release announcing Bennett’s death. “His condition began deteriorating several days ago,” it reads. “After it became clear that he would not recover, he was given compassionate palliative care.”

Bennett came to UMMC in October 2021 and was depending on a heart-lung bypass machine to stay alive.

He was bedridden and ineligible to receive a traditional heart transplant, and therefore, opted to be the subject of the historic — albeit, risky — procedure. On December 31, UMMC began preparing for the surgery after gaining authorization from the FDA.

Initially, the procedure was deemed a success. Bennett’s body did not reject the organ and he was able to live a better-quality life, spending time with his family and even watching the Super Bowl with his physiotherapist. He was looking forward to being back home.

In spite of his passing, doctors at UMMC believe the breakthrough surgery was an important clinical trial.

“[It led to] invaluable insights that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed,” said Dr. Mohiuddin, Professor of Surgery and Scientific Director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at UMSOM.

Health Canada describes xenotransplantation as the “transfer of living cells, tissues and/or organs from non-human animal species into humans,” and adds that technically, it can be the other way around or between any two species.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who performed the surgery, said he was devastated by the loss. “[Mr. Bennett] proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end,” he said, extending condolences to the family of the bereaved.

“We are grateful to Mr. Bennett for his unique and historic role in helping to contribute to a vast array of knowledge to the field of xenotransplantation,” added Mohiuddin.

The UMMC says Bennett was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.

Imaan SheikhImaan Sheikh

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