The man who made history as the first person to receive a genetically modified pig’s heart has passed away on March 8, 2022, just two months after the groundbreaking transplant.
David Bennett, 57, had terminal heart disease and received the transplant on January 7, after being deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant with the experimental surgery being his last option.
Bennett lived for two months following the surgery, with the transplant showing no signs of rejection. He was recently placed in palliative care after his health began to deteriorate and it became clear he would not recover.
He was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.
Bartley P. Griffith, MD, who surgically transplanted the pig heart into the patient at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) said he was “devastated by the loss of Mr Bennett.”
“He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family,” he said.
Griffith remains hopeful the surgery will still “provide lifesaving benefits to future patients.”
“As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes,” he said.
David Bennett, Sr., the first person to receive a genetically modified pig’s heart, passed away on March 8. Mr. Bennett lived for two months following the surgery. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family. https://t.co/E483WupodG pic.twitter.com/WJvtjTjnAq
— Univ. of Maryland Medical Center (@UMMC) March 9, 2022
Bennett presented to UMMC as a patient in October 2021, where he was bedridden and placed on a heart-lung bypass machine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the experimental surgery through its expanded access (compassionate use) provision in an attempt to save his life.
About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one, according to the federal government’s organdonor.gov.
Xenotransplantation, transplanting animal organs into humans, was first attempted in the 1980s but was abandoned following the well-known case of Stephanie Fae Beauclair who was born with a fatal heart condition and received a baboon heart transplant. She died within a month of the procedure due to the immune system’s rejection of the foreign heart.
The organs from genetically modified pigs have been the focus of much of the research in xenotransplantation, due to the physiologic similarities between pigs and humans.