Dave Bennett, the Maryland man who received the first heart transplant from a genetically modified pig last week, continues to recover well, his doctors said late Wednesday.
“The new heart is still a rock star,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, who led the transplant team at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “It seems to be reasonably happy in its new host … It has more than exceeded our expectations.”
Bennett, 57, is now off of the machine that kept blood circulating through his body for more than 45 days, including several days after the surgery. Bennett can now breathe for himself and speak with a steady voice.
Griffith had planned to leave Bennett plugged into the heart-lung machine for another week or so — comparing it to “training wheels,” as the pig heart got used to its new environment. His words were, “But his heart was rolling and rocking so we had to get rid of it.”
In a video recorded by the University of Maryland Medicine, Bennett’s son, David Bennett Jr., said his father can’t wait to get out of the hospital and is grateful for the groundbreaking surgery that might give him that shot.
David stated, “My father’s a fighter.” This was his choice. This is what he chose.”
Be afraid of the operation
Muhammad Mohiuddin from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a physician-scientist, has worked for many decades in developing pigs with organs that could be used to alleviate the worldwide organ shortage. More than 100,000 Americans currently wait to be transplanted and approximately 6,000 people die each year as a result.
Bennett and many others are not on the waiting list. Bennett was not considered a good candidate for a heart transplant because he has often missed medical appointments and not filled prescriptions in the past. People who fail to follow doctor’s orders are less likely to survive heart transplant surgery. This has been proven repeatedly over many years.
Bennett also was rejected as a candidate for implantable technology because of his uncontrolled arrhythmia. Also known as irregular heartbeat, it is a condition that causes uncontrolled arrhythmia.
Revivicor, a Virginia company, raised the 1-year-old, 240-pound pig. Bennett now feels his heart beating inside of him.
PIG KIDNEYS TO ESCUE?:Remarkable transplant: A first step in solving the problem of organ scarcity
Ten genes in the heart of the pig were altered to be more compatible with human beings. The changes made it less likely that Bennett’s body would reject an organ from another species, prevented his blood from clotting as it passed through the heart, and kept the pig from growing too large or its organ from continuing to grow after the transplant.
Years of transplanting pig hearts into baboons helped the scientists identify the crucial genes, as well as determine medications to prevent immune rejection and ways to keep the heart as healthy as possible as it transitioned from pig to person.
The procedure has been criticized by some people for ethical or moral issues. It cost the life of the pig. Bennett said he did, although Bennett was afraid of the procedure and wanted to be able one day to have a heart transplant.
Bennett underwent heart surgery in 2013 to place a pig valve into his heart. That procedure, done for decades, is not considered an organ transplant because it does not involve a full organ and because all the pig cells are removed before it is implanted, so patients don’t have to take immunosuppressive medication.
“A very emotional feeling”
University of Maryland doctors were relieved that Bennett’s body didn’t reject his heart during surgery or shortly thereafter, which is known as hyperacute rejected. This has been an obstacle to transplants from animal-to-human animals since the beginning.
They remain concerned about Bennett’s infection risk and the chance that his body will reject the heart — risks that occur with any organ transplant.
Mohiuddin, in a release video, said that Bennett was very touched by his thanks. Mohiuddin stated that a successful transplant of heart tissue from pig to human was “great”, but Bennett’s survival was the main goal.
That thank you, Mohiuddin said, “meant he understood what has been done. That meant he knew what he signed and what had happened, which was very emotionally charged.
Griffith said he also found Bennett’s thanks extremely moving.
Griffith said, “It only set me back on mine heels.” Griffith said, “It just set me back on my heels,” and he should be thanked.“Thank you for everything he’s done, both in terms his willingness and effort to cooperate with the plan.”
David stated that his father was grateful to him for his willingness to give up his pig heart to receive gene-edited genes.
A LOVE STORYHe married his wife one year later, and he became his organ donor.
“That provided a lot of peace of mind to me as the medical proxy, as his son that’s here supporting him,” David said. He said, “I want it for him. I also want it to happen for everyone else.” But he must be willing and able to fight to get it. He’s showing that he cares.
He still has a long road ahead of him to recover. Since November, he has been in hospital and has lost much of his strength and muscle.
David admitted that he didn’t wish to be there. He is suffering so it’s very hard for me to see him, so I am trying to do my best to support him.
David shared that he had been encouraging his father to believe in him.
David commented on Bennett, saying that he was very quiet and strong-willed. However, he is also very generous, and offered to undergo the surgery for others.
David declared, “Regardless what happened, it was his desire to help others.”
Contact Karen Weintraub at [email protected]
USA TODAY’s coverage of patient safety and health is possible in part thanks to a grant from Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. Editorial input is not provided by the Masimo Foundation.