David Bennett, the man who lived for two months with a pig heart, dies at 57

The US patient, who suffered serious heart failure, was given the genetically modified organ without suffering rejection

David Bennett (third from left) poses with his family in a photo from 2019.
David Bennett (third from left) poses with his family in a photo from 2019.Byron Dillard (AP)

The first human being to live with a pig heart beating in his chest died on Tuesday at the age of 57. David Bennett, from the United States, received the historic transplant two months previously. His death was confirmed by the University of Maryland medical center, where the surgery was carried out.

The heart belonged to a pig that had been genetically modified by the company Revivicor to facilitate the insertion of the animal organ into a human body and avoid its rejection. The medical institution stated that the heart “worked very well” during the first weeks after the surgery and that Bennett, who suffered very serious heart failure, was conscious until the last hours of his life.

In a statement, surgeon Bartley Griffith said that his team would continue trying to perfect this technique, which offers hope to patients such as Bennett, who do not meet the characteristics to go onto a waiting list for a human heart transplant. “As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide lifesaving benefits to future patients,” Griffith said. A spokesperson from the hospital told USA Today that doctors have not yet identified the exact cause of Bennett’s death, and that there were no signs of rejection.

In 2020, there were 120,000 organ transplants carried out across the world, according to a global registry managed by Spain’s National Transplant Organization (ONT) and with data from 82 different countries. This figure was 18% lower than the year before, a fall that can be explained not just by healthcare systems being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, but also due to the reduction in traffic accidents, which traditionally are the main source of organs for donation.

Cutting edge

The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that the number of donated organs barely covers one-tenth of global needs. Of the 7,840 heart transplants carried out across the globe in 2022, 278 of these were in Spain.

Revivicor, which is based in Blacksburg, Virginia, is on the cutting edge of xenotransplantation, which are transplants between different species. On September 25, 2021, another team of surgeons transplanted a pig’s kidney to a female patient who was brain dead.

Revivicor was started in 2003 by the British firm PPL Therapeutics, which in 1996 created the first cloned mammal from an adult cell, “Dolly” the sheep.

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