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 Monday that he’s doing well three days after the highly experimental surgery.
While it’s too soon to know if the operation really will work, it marks a step in the decades-long quest to one day 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 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.
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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 a day before the surgery, according to a statement provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
On Monday, Bennett was breathing on his own while still connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart. The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from the surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is faring.
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“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.