A group of Maryland doctors made history by successfully transplanting a pig heart into a human patient.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center say the patient is doing well three days after the last-ditch surgery. The transplant demonstrates that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in a human body without immediate rejection, doctors said.
The Associated Press reported that the patient, David Bennett, knew the experimental procedure was a long shot, but he was ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option.
“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,” Bennett said.
On Monday, the 57-year-old was breathing on his own but still connected to a heart-lung machine. Doctors say the next few weeks will be critical.
The medical first comes amid a shortage of human organs available for transplant. According to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were a record-breaking 3,800+ heart transplants last year.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, who works as the scientific director of the university’s animal-to-human transplant program.
Previous attempts at such transplants have failed. In 1984, a dying infant named Baby Fae lived 21 days with a baboon heart. However, the Maryland surgeons used a pig heart that had been genetically modified to remove sugar in its cells.
Bennett’s son spoke to the AP about his father’s transplant.
“He realizes the magnitude of what was done and he really realizes the importance of it,” David Bennett Jr. said. “He could not live, or he could last a day, or he could last a couple of days. I mean, we’re in the unknown at this point.”