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  • This 57-Year Old Dad Received A New Heart From A Donor Pig

    “I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” Bennett said.
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
This 57-Year Old Dad Received A New Heart From A Donor Pig
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF WWW.MEDSCHOOL.UMARYLAND.EDU
  • The successful transplant of a genetically modified pig’s heart to a sick patient in Maryland, USA, is considered by  researchers, scientists, and doctors as a step forward to saving more human lives in the future.

    David Bennett, 57, of Baltimore in Maryland had an eight-hour operation on January 7 using the heart of a pig that had been genetically modified to boost the chances of acceptance in a human body. 

    PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.MEDSCHOOL.UMARYLAND.EDU

    Xenotransplantation as solution to short supply of organs 

    Transplants from animal to human beings is called xenotransplantation and is seen as a solution to thousands of critically ill patients waiting for organ donors. "This organ transplant demonstrated for the first time that a genetically-modified animal heart can function like a human heart without immediate rejection by the body," the press release from the University of Maryland Medicine reports.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.MEDSCHOOL.UMARYLAND.EDU
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    PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.MEDSCHOOL.UMARYLAND.EDU

    As of January 10, the same report reveals that Bennett was ‘doing well’ three days after the operation. 

    “This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis. There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients,” Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation, said in the same press release.

    He adds, “We are proceeding cautiously, but we are also optimistic that this first-in-the-world surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future.”

    Pig hearts are similar in size to human hearts. They also have an anatomy that is similar to humans.

    Hope for the family

    Bennett, according to a New York Times report, decided to gamble on the experimental treatment after exhausting other treatments and being too sick to qualify for a human donor. He was so sick that he was already on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine which pumps and oxygenates a patient's blood outside the body.

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    "His level of illness probably exceeded our standards for what would be safe for human heart transplantation," Dr. Griffith said. Without the transplant, Bennett would have died. 

    Griffith along with a team of researchers have spent the past five years studying and perfecting the transplantation of pig hearts, according to University of Maryland Medicine.

    “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,” said Bennett a day before the surgery was conducted, according to the University's press release. “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

    Post-operation

    As of January 10, Bennett is still connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which kept him alive even before the operation but his doctors said that the animal heart was doing most of the work. Dr. Griffith told the NYT that the patient’s heart “fired right up” and “the animal heart began to squeeze” as the team removed the clamp restricting blood supply to the organ. 

    The revolutionary transplant is giving Bennett’s family some ‘level of hope.’

    "Hope that he could go home and hope that he could have the quality of life that he so much desired," Bennet’s son, David Bennett, Jr. told Good Morning America.

    "He's in a much better place and a much happier place right now following this transplant procedure. He is happy with where he is at. Happy with the potential to get out of the hospital," he adds

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    While the first few days for Bennett are crucial, it may take weeks to see if there is immune rejection by the patient so doctors will still have to wait and see for any new development.

    Nevertheless, this first transplant is seen to present new opportunities both for science and new hope for terminally ill patients like Bennett. 

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