On Jan. 7, 57-year-old David Bennett Sr. became the first person to receive a non-human heart transplant, made possible by the Silver Spring-based biotech company.
Bennett, who was diagnosed with end-stage heart disease, successfully received a genetically modified pig heart transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
A subsidiary of United Therapeutics, Revivicor, was responsible for the genetically modified pork heart. Organs are manufactured at the company’s headquarters in Silver Spring.
The Maryland resident was deemed ineligible for conventional human heart donation by UMMC, as well as several other transplant centers after reviewing his medical records.
According to The Washington Post, Bennett was convicted of stabbing Edward Shumaker during a bar fight in 1988, leaving the 22-year-old paralyzed. Shumaker died in 2007 following a stroke.
UMMC officials said in a statement that the hospital provides “life-saving care to every patient who walks through its doors based on their medical needs, not their history or life circumstances.”
Although deemed ineligible for a human heart, the United States Food and Drug Administration granted emergency clearance on New Year’s Eve to proceed with xenotransplantation.
Bennett had been bedridden in the hospital a few months before the transplant. “It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live,” Bennett said a day before the operation. “I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice.”
Several weeks later, Bennett seems firmly on the road to recovery. The transplant even watched Super Bowl LVI, singing along to “America the Beautiful.”
“This was a breakthrough surgery and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage crisis,” said Bartley P. Griffith, MD, the surgeon who performed the transplant. “There simply aren’t enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.”
UMMC released a video detailing Bennett’s physical therapy and progress, which can be viewed online.
“We proceed with caution, but we are also optimistic that this world-first surgery will provide an important new option for patients in the future,” Griffith said.