The patient who got the world's first pig heart transplant has died after 2 months

The exact cause of the death has not been revealed.
Ameya Paleja

David Bennett, the 57-year-old man who became globally known as the first human to receive a genetically modified pig's heart as a transplant has died in the hospital where he underwent the transplant and was recovering, according to a press release.

Bennett was first admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in October last year with arrhythmia - the irregular beating of the heart, which in his case had become life-threatening. The doctors placed him on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), commonly known as a heart-lung bypass machine to keep him alive.

A heart transplant was recommended, but with over 110,000 Americans on the waitlist to receive one, Bennett's time was running out. The clinical team suggested an alternative that had never been tried before.

Xenotransplantation

The only alternative available to Mr. Bennett was a transplant from a species that wasn't human but a genetically modified pig. Revivicor, a Virginia-based biotechnology company, uses genetic engineering to develop a line of pigs that are less likely to be rejected by the human body. This is because the company has removed genes from the pig that alarms the human immune system and then put in genes of human origin that would increase the acceptance of the transplanted organ.

This was the first time, such as transplant was being attempted on a living human being. Earlier in October, the company had transplanted kidneys successfully into a dead body. 

Mr. Bennet was explained all the risks of the procedure and after receiving special approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the transplant was completed in the first week of January. 

The patient was recovering from the surgery

Within days following the surgery, the procedure was hailed as a success since the organ was not rejected by his body. The transplanted organ was performing well without any signs of rejection, the hospital noted in the press release. Bennett wasn't discharged from the hospital after the surgery and continued to receive recovery care that included physical therapy to help him regain strength. 

Bennett was also allowed to spend time with his family and even engaged in routine tasks such as watching Super Bowl during his stay in the hospital. However, a few days ago, Bennett's health began deteriorating and after the doctors realized that he would not recover, he was given palliative care. The exact cause of the death has not been revealed and hospital officials are expected to conduct a thorough examination to know more, The New York Times reported

"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," said Bartley Griffith, one of the surgeons, who performed the procedure in January. "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 life-saving benefits to future patients."

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