The first human being who has lived with a pig’s heart beating in his chest, the American David Bennett, has died this Tuesday at the age of 57, two months after receiving the historic transplant, according to has confirmed the Medical Center of the University of Maryland (USA), where the operation was performed. The heart belonged to a pig genetically modified by the Revivicor company to make it easier for the organ to fit into the human body and avoid rejection. The medical institution has stressed that the viscera “worked very well” during the first weeks and that Bennett, who suffered from very serious heart failure, was conscious until the last hours of his life.
His surgeon, Bartley Griffith, has assured in a statement that his team will continue to try to perfect this technique, a hope for patients like Bennett, who do not have the characteristics to enter the waiting list for a human heart. “Like every other transplant pioneer in the world, this one has given us valuable knowledge that will hopefully help transplant surgeons improve their outcomes and potentially save the lives of future patients,” Griffith said. A hospital spokeswoman has assured to the diary USAToday Doctors have not yet identified the exact cause of Bennett’s death, as no obvious rejection of the porcine heart has been detected.
In 2020, some 120,000 organ transplants were carried out on the planet, 18% less than the previous year, according to the global registry managed by the Spanish National Transplant Organization (ONT), with data from 82 countries. The fall is explained by the collapse of health systems due to the covid pandemic, but also by the reduction in traffic accidents, a traditional source of organs. The World Health Organization estimates that donated viscera barely cover one tenth of global needs. Of the 7,840 heart transplants in the world, 278 were performed in Spain.
The son of the deceased, also named David Bennett, has publicly thanked “the opportunity” that his father had with the pig heart transplant. “He wanted to fight to the end to save his life and spend more time with his loving family, including his two sisters, his two children, his five grandchildren and his beloved dog. Lucky. We were able to spend a few wonderful weeks together while he recovered from the operation, weeks that we would not have had without this miraculous effort, ”said the son.
In an unexpected turn of events, a week after the transplant, the American newspaper Washington Post published that David Bennett had a criminal record, after stab seven times in 1988 to a man for an alleged attack of jealousy. The attacked, Edward Shumaker, had to move in a wheelchair until his death in 2007.
The company Revivicor, based in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA, is at the forefront of xenotransplantation, transplantation between different species. On September 25, another team of surgeons successfully transplanted the company’s pig kidney for the first time into a person, a brain-dead woman in a New York University operating room. Revivicor was founded in 2003 from the British company PPL Therapeutics, responsible for the creation in 1996 of the sheep Dollythe first mammal cloned from an adult cell.
The catalog of “products” on the Revivicor website includes pig hearts, from the UHeart brand; kidneys, stamped UKidney; and even lung lobes, ULobe. After David Bennett’s operation, the nephrologist Rafael Matesanz, founder of the ONT, warned that pig organ transplants produced by companies represented a total paradigm shift, compared to the current model of altruistic donation. Matesanz, concerned about the possible “crazy prices”, warned that “the problem would go from being a shortage of donors to being the economic cost for health systems”.
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