In the very first operation of its kind, US doctors have been able to transplant a pig's heart into a human in a bid to save his life. David Bennett, 57, received a genetically modified pig's heart in a nine-hour-long procedure. Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the operation.
Doctors, however, noted that it is still early to comment whether the operation was successful, but Bennett is breathing on his own without a ventilator at the moment. He is still using an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine to help pump blood throughout his body. Doctors are hopeful that he will be taken off the machine soon.
Bennett's son told The Associated Press that his father knew that he was dying and was ineligible for a human heart transplant. Despite knowing there's no guarantee the experiment would work, he decided to go for it. Doctors noted that his heart failure and an irregular heartbeat made Benett not eligible for a human heart transplant or a heart pump.
'It was either die or do this transplant'
According to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a day before the surgery, Benett noted that he knew 'it [the surgery] is a shot in the dark,' but it was his last choice. "It was either die or do this transplant," he said.
The director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, Dr. Bartley Griffith said that he first introduced the experimental procedure to the patient in mid-December. "I said, 'We can't give you a human heart; you don't qualify. But maybe we can use one from an animal, a pig'," he said.
'Well, will I oink?'
Dr. Griffith said that the procedure wasn't done before but he and his team were confident they could do it. He noted that the patient jokingly asked him if he would 'oink' after the surgery. "It's working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don't know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before," he told the New York Times.
David Benett spent the last several months bedridden on a heart-lung bypass machine prior to the surgery. He said he was looking forward to getting out of bed after the surgery. Doctors will carefully monitor how Benett's new heart is faring over the next few weeks.
Benett's son noted that he visited the hospital in October after complaining of severe chest pains.