David Bennett Sr., the first man to receive a heart transplant from a pig, passed away just two months after the historic procedure on Tuesday. He was 57 years old.
Bennett received the historic transplant, which used a genetically modified pig heart, on January 7. The historic procedure represented a major milestone for animal to human transplantation.
According to an obituary released on Wednesday by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where Bennett received the transplant, his condition began to worsen a few days ago.
The last days of his life were spent in palliative care with his family at his side.
Doctor who conducted surgery “devastated” at loss of David Bennett Sr.
Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who conducted the surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), expressed his sadness at Bennett’s loss:
“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. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family,” he expressed.
“Mr. Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live,” stated Griffith, who is the Thomas E. and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Transplant Surgery and Clinical Director of the Cardiac Xenotransplantation Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
His son, David Bennett Jr., expressed his thanks to the medical team that made the procedure to extend his father’s life possible.
“We are profoundly grateful for the life-extending opportunity provided to my father, David Bennett Sr. by Dr. Griffith, Dr. Mohiuddin, Dr. Alison Grazioli and the stellar team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center. Their exhaustive efforts and energy, paired with my dad’s insatiable will to live, created a hopeful environment during an uphill climb.
“Up until the end, my father wanted to continue fighting to preserve his life and spend more time with his beloved family, including his two sisters, his two children, and his five grandchildren, and his cherished dog Lucky. We were able to spend some precious weeks together while he recovered from the transplant surgery, weeks we would not have had without this miraculous effort,” he wrote.
Pig heart transplant provided last hope for Bennett
Before his surgery, Bennett had been deemed ineligible for human transplant — a decision that is often taken when the recipient has very poor underlying health.
In October, when he first arrived at UMMC, Bennett was bedridden and could not live without a extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or a heart-lung bypass machine.
As he was not eligible for a human heart transplant, surgeons at UMMC proposed the use of a genetically-modified pig heart, and informed Bennett of all the risks of the cutting-edge procedure. Bennett accepted them.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then granted emergency authorization for the surgery on New Year’s Eve, as a last-ditch effort for a patient who was unsuitable for a conventional transplant.
The surgery went well, and there were no signs that the body would reject the transplant. Through the historic procedure, Bennett was given two more months with his family.
Bennett’s donor pig belonged to a herd that had undergone genetic editing procedures before the surgery.
Three genes that would have led to the rejection of pig organs by humans were “knocked out,” as was a gene that would have led to excessive growth of pig heart tissue.
Six human genes responsible for human acceptance were inserted into the genome, for a total of 10 unique gene edits.
The editing was performed by Virginia-based biotech firm Revivicor, which also supplied the pig used in a breakthrough kidney transplant on brain-dead patients in New York in October.
The success of the procedure inspired surgeons to further study the possibility of using genetically-modified animal organs for future patients who are ineligible for human organs, or in circumstances when human organs are not available.
“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. We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, who co-founded the university’s cardiac xenotransplantation program.
“As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide lifesaving benefits to future patients,” Dr. Griffith added.