Man who received world-first pig heart transplant has died

Baltimore, Maryland - The first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died two months after the groundbreaking surgery.

Dr Bartley Griffith (l.) was the lead surgeon on a procedure which gave David Bennett (r.) the world s first pig heart transplant.
Dr Bartley Griffith (l.) was the lead surgeon on a procedure which gave David Bennett (r.) the world s first pig heart transplant.  © Collage: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire & ZUMA Press

David Bennett died on Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 57-years-old and suffered from terminal heart disease.

"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," Dr Bartley Griffith, who performed Mr Bennett's surgery, said in a statement.

Last month, the hospital released a video of Mr Bennett watching the Super Bowl from his hospital bed. And even after Mr Bennett's death, medics have said they "remain optimistic" for future clinical trials.

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Mr Bennett's son, David Bennett Jr, said: "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."

It is not yet clear whether Bennett died because he was too frail or whether the pig heart was not compatible. His team of doctors did not give an exact cause of death, saying only that his condition had begun deteriorating several days ago.

Doctors added that Bennett's transplant, which took place on January 7, shows that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection.

Bennett thought doctors were joking when they suggested the surgery

Members of the surgical team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed the pig heart for transplant into patient David Bennett in January.
Members of the surgical team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed the pig heart for transplant into patient David Bennett in January.  © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Experts had been watching the case with heightened interest, as it was the first attempt of this transplant type in the world.

Yet, there is still some way to go before this sort of treatment becomes an everyday reality. Xenotransplantation is still in very early stages of development.

Bennett is said to have thought that doctors were joking when the operation was initially proposed, but agreed to try the experimental procedure as a last-ditch attempt to save his life. He was not eligible to be put on the transplant list, as he was bedridden and using a heart-lung bypass machine to stay alive.

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The pig was genetically engineered so its organs could survive in a human body.

Cross-species transplantations offer the prospect of an unlimited supply of organs and cells for transplantation and could potentially resolve issues over shortages of donors.

Many attempts at such transplants have failed, largely because patients' bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ.

Bennett proved there may be lots of hope for more patients to come.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire & ZUMA Press

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