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. He 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 not considered an ideal candidate for an implantable device due to his uncontrolled arrhythmia. Also known as irregular heart beat, 

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 organ shortage

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. 

There are ethical and moral concerns about the surgery, which could have resulted in the death of the pig. Bennett, his son claimed that Bennett did. However Bennett had been fearful of surgery before and would have loved to be able to get a 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 medical doctors breathed relief after Bennett’s heart did not fail to reject it on the operating room table. 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. This meant that he was clear about what he had agreed to, as well as what happened. It was an extremely emotional feeling.

Griffith said he also found Bennett’s thanks extremely moving.

Griffith stated that Griffith’s words had “just set me back on mine heels.” He should be thankedFor all that he did in terms of willingness to take part and for how hard he worked towards getting well.

David claimed that David’s father’s appreciation reassured David that he didn’t regret his decision to volunteer to become the first to get a gene-edited heart from a pig.

A LOVE STORYHis husband was his first kidney donor one year after their marriage.

Dave Bennett Sr., left, and David Bennett Jr., right, are photographed on Jan. 12, 2022. Dave Bennett, 57, agreed to be the first to risk experimental surgery, the first time a gene-edited pig has been used as an 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. It’s encouraging to see him doing this.

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 stated, “To be truthful, he doesn’t want to stay here.” 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 described Bennett as a strong-willed, private man. He’s also generous and volunteered to help others.

David stated, “Regardless of the outcome, he was determined to assist people.”

Contact Karen Weintraub at [email protected]

USA TODAY has coverage for patient safety and healthcare thanks in part to the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. Editorial input is not provided by the Masimo Foundation.

Source: USAToday.com


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