Man dies two months after receiving first-ever pig heart transplant

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(BALTIMORE) — A Maryland man who earlier this year became the first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died, according to the University of Maryland Medicine, where the transplant was performed.

David Bennett, 57, died on March 8, according to University of Maryland Medicine. The hospital did not say what caused his death, noting only that his “condition began deteriorating several days ago.”

“After it became clear that he would not recover, he was given compassionate palliative care,” the hospital said in a statement. “He was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.”

Bennett, a father of two, suffered from terminal heart disease and was deemed ineligible for a conventional heart transplant because of his severe condition, University of Maryland Medicine said in January, at the time the transplant was announced.

On New Year’s Eve, University of Maryland Medicine doctors were granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration to try the pig heart transplantation with Bennett, who had been hospitalized and bedridden for several months.

Bennett said at the time that he saw the risky surgery as his last option.

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” he said the day before the surgery, according to University of Maryland Medicine. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

Pig hearts are similar in size to human hearts and have an anatomy that is similar, but not identical.

Xenotransplantation, transplanting animal cells, tissues or organs into a human, carries the risk of triggering a dangerous immune response, which can cause a “potentially deadly outcome to the patient,” University of Maryland Medicine said at the time of the transplant.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, a professor in transplant surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the doctor who surgically transplanted the pig heart into Bennett, said he is “devastated” by his death.

“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,” Griffith said in a statement. “Mr. Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live.”

Bennett’s family said in a statement they are “profoundly grateful” to Griffith and the rest of the medical team that performed the transplant on Bennett, who had been a patient at University of Maryland Medicine since October 2021.

“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,” the family said in a statement. “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.”

“We have felt the prayers of the world during this time and humbly ask that those prayers continue to be offered on behalf of the medical teams, technology companies, research labs, grant writers and innovative initiatives of the future,” the family continued. “We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end. We also hope that what was learned from his surgery will benefit future patients and hopefully one day, end the organ shortage that costs so many lives each year.”

Experts said at the time of Bennett’s transplant, that though it is groundbreaking, it does not minimize the ongoing need for human organ donations.

Around 110,000 people in the United States are on the organ transplant waiting list, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting a transplant, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

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