New York: In a medical first, doctors transplanted a pig heart into a patient in a last-ditch effort to save his life and a Maryland hospital said On January 10 that he’s doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery.
The patient, David Bennett, a 57-year-old Maryland handyman, knew there was no guarantee the experiment would work but he was dying, ineligible for a human heart transplant and had no other option, his son told The Associated Press.
While it’s too soon to know if the operation really will work, it marks a step in the decades-long quest to use animal organs for life-saving transplants. Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center say the transplant showed that a heart from a genetically modified animal can function in the human body without immediate rejection. The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from the surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is faring.
“If this works, there will be an endless supply of these organs for patients who are suffering,” said Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, scientific director of the Maryland University’s animal-to-human transplant program.
But prior attempts at such transplants — or xenotransplantation — have failed, largely because patients’ bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ. Notably, in 1984, Baby Fae, a dying infant, lived 21 days with a baboon heart.
The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees such experiments, allowed the surgery under what’s called a “compassionate use” emergency authorization, available when a patient with a life-threatening condition has no other options.
The surgery last Friday took seven hours at the Baltimore hospital. Dr. Bartley Griffith, who performed the surgery, said the patient’s condition — heart failure and an irregular heartbeat — made him ineligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump.