The first patient ever to receive a genetically modified animal organ transplant has passed away two months after his surgery.
In January, David Bennett, 57, was the recipient of a pig heart transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center. It had been genetically modified to prevent rejection by the human body.
Bennett had terminal heart disease but was not a candidate for a traditional heart transplant because he had refused to follow medical advice. He was also not eligible for an artificial heart pump because he had an erratic heartbeat.
Out of options, Bennett volunteered to be the first person to try the pig heart transplant.
The first couple of weeks went well, and his body appeared to be accepting the new heart.
Bennett’s ultimate cause of death is still unclear at this time.
“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,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, surgeon who led Bennett’s transplant said in a statement obtained by USA Today. “Mr. Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live.”
Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, an expert in interspecies transplants who was involved in Bennett’s care, added that he remains optimistic about his field.
“We have gained invaluable insights learning that the genetically modified pig heart can function well within the human body while the immune system is adequately suppressed,” Mohiuddin said in a statement. “We remain optimistic and plan on continuing our work in future clinical trials.”
Bennett’s son, David Bennett, Jr., told the newspaper that he was thankful for the extra weeks with his father.
“Their exhaustive efforts and energy, paired with my dad’s insatiable will to live, created a hopeful environment during an uphill climb,” he 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.”
The son also said that he hopes his father’s case will lead to helping more people in the future.
“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” he said. “We pray that those looking for hope will continue to fight for the future, fight for new ideas, fight for answers, fight for life. Fight like Dave.”