THE first human patient to receive a pig heart transplant called the one-of-a-kind medical procedure a "shot in the dark" that could save his life.
A pig heart was transplanted into 57-year-old David Bennett on Friday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
The experimental surgery — which took seven hours to complete — led doctors at the medical center to confirm the procedure showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can work in the human body without being rejected immediately.
Bennett said in a statement, obtained by The Associated Press a day before the surgery: "It was either die or do this transplant.
"I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice."
His son David Bennett Jr. told the news outlet his dad was ineligible for a human heart transplant and this was his only option for a chance at living — despite it not being guaranteed to help.
On Monday, three days post-operation, doctors said Bennett was breathing on his own while being hooked up to a heart-lung machine.
Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of Maryland university’s animal-to-human transplant program, said: "If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering."
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The experimental surgery comes as there's is an ongoing organ shortage crisis.
It also comes after previously unsuccessful attempts at xenotransplantation, which is described by the FDA as "any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion into a human recipient of either (a) live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source…
"Or (b) human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have had ex vivo contact with live nonhuman animal cells, tissues or organs."
Back in 1984, a dying baby named Fae lived for 21 days with a baboon heart until it failed.
However, in Bennett's case, Maryland surgeons used a pig heart that went through a gene-editing process to remove a sugar in its cells that's known for organ rejection.
The surgery was allowed by the FDA under a "compassionate use" emergency authorization, as Bennett's condition was life-threatening and no other options could help save him.
"This is a truly remarkable breakthrough," Dr. Robert Montgomery said in a statement.
"As a heart transplant recipient, myself with a genetic heart disorder, I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough."
Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery and previously transplanted pig hearts into dozens of baboons, said: "We’re learning a lot every day with this gentleman.
"And so far, we’re happy with our decision to move forward. And he is as well: Big smile on his face today."
According to Griffith, Bennett was not eligible for a human heart transplant or heart pump because he had both heart failure and an irregular heartbeat.
Bennett's son told AP News his dad had previously received a pig heart valve about 10 years ago, something which has successfully been used in humans for decades.
"He realizes the magnitude of what was done and he really realizes the importance of it," Bennett Jr. said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Muhammad M. Mohiuddin, UMSOM's Professor of Surgery, said: "This is the culmination of years of highly complicated research to hone this technique in animals with survival times that have reached beyond nine months.
"The FDA used our data and data on the experimental pig to authorize the transplant in an end-stage heart disease patient who had no other treatment options.
“The successful procedure provided valuable information to help the medical community improve this potentially life-saving method in future patients.”
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