A medical marvel passed away yesterday, March 9, 2022. David Bennet was a 57-year-old who suffered from terminal heart disease and was the first to receive a genetic pig heart transplant. This groundbreaking surgery took place in our very own University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore. He received this transplant on January 7, 2022, and survived for two months surpassing many expectations.
Mr. Bennet was a patient at UMMC since October 2021, where he was bedridden and placed on a heart-lung bypass machine, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), to remain alive. Due to the severity of his condition and less than optimal health, he was ineligible for a conventional human heart transplant. The team at UMMC suggested a very experimental procedure to receive a heart from a pig that had undergone gene-editing to remove sugar in its cells that are responsible for the hyper-fast organ rejection. Though it was a hit-or-miss situation, Bennet was ready to take that risk. Bennet knew that if he didn’t get the transplant, he would die and that if he did get the transplant, there was a chance he could still die. Therefore he decided to take the risk of this experimental procedure with unknown outcomes.
On December 31, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency authorization for the surgery in the hope of saving his life. And on January 7, 2022, David Bennet underwent the transplant, the first of its kind. He was living a decent life in the hospital, receiving rehabilitation, physical therapy, and spending extra time with his family.
Though his condition began deteriorating several days before his death, all of the data received and the capacity the pig heart had in keeping Bennet alive will be used to further advance the genetically modified animal organ research. The long-term goal is to one day provide successful and useful organs to aid in the organ shortage and help those on the organ waiting list.
Though his death affected the family, his death was still noble and helped research enter uncharted medical territory.
To me, this is an amazing story, and though it leads to the death of David Bennet, his will to live and become the person to test this theory is astonishing. This transplant also means a lot to me, as a UMD student and a Maryland resident, to have Maryland and UMMC on the map as a place where groundbreaking research and surgeries are done. There is still so much research to be done and I hope it motivates us to become those researchers or doctors who cross those boundaries and save lives.