A Maryland man who made history as the first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died, two months after the experimental procedure, hospital officials said Wednesday.
David Bennett, a 57-year-old handyman, had received the genetically modified pig heart during a last-ditch operation to save his life at the University of Maryland Medical Center on Jan. 7.
“His condition began deteriorating several days ago,” hospital officials said in a statement. “After it became clear that he would not recover, he was given compassionate palliative care. He was able to communicate with his family during his final hours.”
No cause of death was immediately provided, but transplant recipients can face complications like infection and rejection of organs. Doctors previously said the successful transplant showed a heart from a modified animal — known as xenotransplantation — can function in humans without immediate rejection.
Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery, said he was “devastated” by Bennett’s death.
“He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end,” Griffith said. “We extend our sincerest condolences to his family.”
Bennett, who had terminal heart disease, was bedridden and out of options while at the University of Maryland Medical Center in October 2021. He was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine to stay alive and was deemed ineligible for a conventional transplant, doctors said.
The US Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency authorization for the experimental surgery on Dec. 31 in hopes of saving Bennett’s life.
The transplanted heart “performed very well” for several weeks with no signs of rejection, allowing Bennett to spend time with family and partake in physical therapy to rebuild his atrophied muscles. He even watched the Super Bowl with his physical therapist, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Bennett’s son, David, thanked the team of doctors for the “life-extending opportunity” given to his father.
“Up until the end, my father wanted to continue fighting to preserve his life and spend more time with his beloved family, including his two sisters, his two children, and his five grandchildren, and his cherished dog Lucky,” David Bennett Jr. said in a statement.
Those “precious weeks” wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Griffith’s team, Bennett said.
“We hope this story can be the beginning of hope and not the end,” he continued. “We also hope that what was learned from his surgery will benefit future patients and hopefully one day, end the organ shortage that costs so many lives each year.”
David Bennett Jr. told the Associated Press in January his father knew the surgery wasn’t guaranteed to work, but had no other options to survive.
“It was either die or do this transplant,” the elder Bennett said in a statement released by the medical center a day before the groundbreaking procedure. “I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice. I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”