The first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died. The University of Maryland Medical Center announced David Bennett’s death two months after the groundbreaking experiment.
The 57-year-old died Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors didn’t give an exact cause of death. But they did say that his condition had begun deteriorating several days earlier.
Bennett’s son praised the hospital for offering the last-ditch experiment. (Read more in Pig Heart Sustains Man’s Life.) The Bennett family hopes it will contribute to ending the organ shortage.
“We are grateful for every innovative moment, every crazy dream, every sleepless night that went into this historic effort,” David Bennett, Jr., says. “We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end.”
Bennett was a candidate for this attempt only because he otherwise faced certain death. Bedridden and on life support, he was out of other options. The Food and Drug Administration had allowed the experiment under “compassionate use” rules for emergency situations.
At first the heart from a gene-edited pig was functioning. The Maryland hospital issued periodic updates that Bennett seemed to be slowly recovering. Last month, the hospital released video of him watching the Super Bowl from his hospital bed while working with his physical therapist.
“It was an incredible feat that he was kept alive for two months and was able to enjoy his family,” says transplant surgeon Robert Montgomery.
Transplant experts still hope to figure out how to use animal organs to save human lives.
“This was a first step into uncharted territory,” says Montgomery. “A tremendous amount of information” from Bennett’s experience will contribute to the next steps. That information may help teams at transplant centers plan the first clinical trials.
Karen Maschke is a bioethics expert. Some may see Bennett’s death as suggesting a short life-expectancy from xenotransplantation, she says. But the experience of one desperately ill person cannot predict how well this procedure ultimately will work. That will require careful studies of multiple patients with similar medical histories.
Death is a painful reality of our fallen world. But it is not the end for those who trust Jesus. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
(David Bennett, Jr., right, stands next to his father’s hospital bed on January 12, 2022, five days after doctors transplanted a pig heart into David Bennett, Sr., in a last-ditch effort to save his life. University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP)