Avatar photo
BY Mildred Europa Taylor, 9:00am March 10, 2022,

Man who got first pig heart transplant dies after two months

This handout photo released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine on January 10, 2022 shows surgeons performing a transplant of a heart from a genetically modified pig to patient David Bennett, Sr., in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 7, 2022. Photo: University of Maryland School of Medicine via AFP

A Maryland man who received a historic pig heart transplant two months ago has died. David Bennett, 57, passed away on Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center, doctors said Wednesday without giving an exact cause of death.

“We were having difficulty maintaining a balance between his immunosuppression and controlling his infection,” said Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, professor of surgery and scientific director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Unfortunately, his multiple organs started to fail, and finally, you know, I think that resulted in his passing away.”

Doctors are currently looking at what exactly caused Bennett’s death. “A lot of new information will come out that will help the field move forward at a faster pace,” Mohiuddin added.

Surgeons successfully implanted the heart of a genetically modified pig into Bennett in a medical first in January, saving his life at the time. That was the first time a genetically modified animal heart had been transplanted into a human body without immediate rejection, according to the doctors. Bennett, a Maryland handyman, had been in hospital for weeks with a heart arrhythmia and was dying.

The only thing that kept him alive was a heart-lung bypass machine and he had been told that he was ineligible for a human heart transplant because of his condition — heart failure and an irregular heartbeat. So with no other option, he agreed for the doctors to transplant a pig heart into him.

“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,” Bennett said a day before the surgery, a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine said. The surgery was conducted on Friday by Dr. Bartley Griffith at the Baltimore hospital with emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” said Griffith in a statement.

Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the U.S., according to figures cited by the AP. And due to a huge shortage of human organs donated for transplant, scientists are trying to find ways to use animal organs instead. Doctors have earlier attempted such transplants (or xenotransplantation) but have not been successful mainly due to patients’ bodies rapidly rejecting the animal organ, the AP reported. In 1984, Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.

What was different with Bennett’s surgery was that the doctors “used a heart from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to remove a sugar in its cells that’s responsible for that hyper-fast organ rejection,” according to AP. A previous surgery involved putting a pig valve into Bennett’s heart, but January’s operation moved things forward.
“We have gained invaluable insights learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed,” Mohiuddin said after Bennett’s death on Tuesday. “We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials.”

Bennett’s son, in a statement released by the hospital, said everyone should “fight like Dave.”

“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort. We hope that this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 10, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates