First successful heart transplant recipient dies after two months

The hospital said a 57-year-old man with a terminal heart disease, who made history as the first person to receive a genetically modified pig heart, died Tuesday afternoon at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

David Bennett received his transplant on January 7.  His condition had been deteriorating for several days, the hospital said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that Bennett was given “compassionate palliative care” after it was found he would not recover.

The hospital said Bennett was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.  Bennett first came to UMMC as a patient in October and was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine to keep him alive, but was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant.

After transplanting Bennett’s heart that was genetically modified to prevent rejection in a first-of-its-kind surgery, his son called the operation a “miracle.”

The surgery, performed by a team at the hospital, was among the first to demonstrate the feasibility of transplanting a pig-to-human heart, an area made possible by new gene-editing tools.

For Bennett, the procedure was his last option.  “Before agreeing to receive the implant, Mr. Bennett was fully aware of the risks of the procedure, and that the procedure was experimental with unknown risks and benefits,” the hospital said.

On December 31, the US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency clearance to perform the surgery in hopes of saving his life. The hospital said on Wednesday that the transplanted heart had “performed very well for several weeks without any signs of rejection.”

Pigs have long been a baffling source for potential transplants because their organs are so similar to humans.  Previous efforts to transplant pigs to humans failed due to genetic variations that caused organ rejection or viruses that pose a risk of infection.


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