Man who received pig heart in ground-breaking transplant dies two months after surgery

A terminally ill man who received a genetically-modified pig’s heart in a groundbreaking transplant has died two months after the surgery.

Maryland hospital announced that David Bennett, 57, died on Tuesday. No exact cause of death has yet been established, but doctors said his condition had been deteriorating for several days.

Mr Bennett’s son, David Jr, praised the hospital for attempting the surgery to save his father’s life and said his family hoped it would contribute to efforts to address a shortage of transplant organs.

Photo courtesy: David Bennett Jr.  Descriptions of people.The Bennett family group pix is from 2019..Left to right in the back row: David Bennett Jr, David Bennett Sr, Nicole (Bennett) McCray, Sawyer Bennett, Kristi Bennett..Left to right in the front row: Preston Bennett, Gillian Bennett.The carnival photo is from 2014. Left to right: David Bennett Jr, David Bennett Sr. and Nicole (Bennett) McCray.
The Bennett family, from L-R: David Bennett Jr, David Bennett Sr, Nicole (Bennett) McCray, Sawyer Bennett, Kristi Bennett

Breakthrough surgery

Following the procedure doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Centre said the transplant showed that a genetically-modified heart from a pig can be used in the human body without immediately being rejected.

In a statement on the day before the surgery, Mr Bennett said: “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.”

His son David Bennett Jr said: “He realises the magnitude of what was done, and he really realises the importance of it.

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“He could not live, or he could last a day, or he could last a couple of days. I mean, we’re in the unknown at this point.”

Speaking following Bennet Sr’s death, his surgeon Dr Bartley Griffith said: “We are devastated by the lost of Mr Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end.”

Doctors transplant a pig's heart into a human
Doctors transplant a pig’s heart into a human

Future options

The surgery, scientifically known as xenotransplantation, has previously not worked because of patients’ bodies rejecting the animal organ.

With a shortage of human organs for transplant, animal alternatives have long been the subject of intense research.

Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the US, a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin, a scientific director for the university’s animal-to-human transplant programme, said: “If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering.”

The most notable attempt was in 1984, when Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.

The surgeons in Maryland used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene editing to remove a chemical in its cells that’s responsible for the organ rejection.

The UNOS’s chief medical officer, Dr David Klassen, described the transplant as a “watershed event”, but warned that it is only a first, tentative step into exploring the animal-to-human organ transplants.

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