The first person to get a heart transplant from a pig has died, the Maryland hospital that conducted the surgery reported Wednesday, two months after the procedure.
At the University of Maryland Medical Center, David Bennett, 57, died on Tuesday. Doctors did not specify the reason of death, just stating that his condition had been deteriorating for many days.
Bennett’s son expressed gratitude to the hospital for giving the last-ditch trial, noting that the family hoped it would aid future attempts to alleviate the organ scarcity.
“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort… We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” David Bennett Jr. said in a statement released by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
For decades, doctors have hoped to employ animal organs in life-saving transplants. Bennett, a handyman from Hagerstown, Maryland, was only a candidate for this latest effort because he was on the verge of dying – he was ineligible for a human heart transplant, bedridden and on life support, and had exhausted all other possibilities.
Attempts at such transplants, known as xenotransplantation, have failed in the past, owing to patients’ bodies’ fast rejection of the animal organ. The Maryland surgeons utilized a heart from a gene-edited pig, in which scientists removed pig genes that cause hyper-fast rejection and replaced them with human ones to help the body accept the organ.
The pig heart was initially functional, and the Maryland hospital sent periodic reports indicating that Bennett was steadily recovering. Last month, the hospital posted a video of him enjoying the Super Bowl while working with his physical therapist from his hospital bed.
Bennett lasted far longer with the gene-edited pig heart than Baby Fae, a dying California newborn who lived 21 days with a baboon’s heart in 1984, one of the final breakthroughs in xenotransplantation.
“We are devastated by the loss of Mr. Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end,” stated Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery at the Baltimore hospital.
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